Scotland's National Marine Plan

This Plan covers the management of both Scottish inshore waters (out to 12 nautical miles) and offshore

waters (12 to 200 nautical miles). It also applies to the exercise of both reserved and

devolved functions.

13. Shipping, Ports, Harbours and Ferries

Objectives and policies for this sector should be read subject to those set out in Chapters 3 and 4 of this Plan. It is recognised that not all of the objectives can necessarily be achieved directly through the marine planning system, but they are considered important context for planning and decision making.



Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

Safeguarded access to ports and harbours and navigational safety.


Economic Social

Sustainable growth and development of ports and harbours as a competitive sector, maximising their potential to facilitate cargo movement, passenger movement and support other sectors.


Economic Social

Safeguarded essential maritime transport links to island and remote mainland communities.


Economic Social Marine Ecosystem

Linking of ferry services with public transport routes and active travel routes to help encourage sustainable travel where possible.


Economic Climate Change

Best available technology to mitigate and adapt to climate change, where possible, supporting efficiencies in fleet management and ensuring port infrastructure and shipping services are able to adapt to the consequences of climate change. Consideration of the provision of facilities for shoreside power in new developments to allow for this to be provided when markets require it, if it becomes cost effective to do so.

Key references

National Planning Framework 3

National Renewables Infrastructure Plan. Stage 1. Scottish Enterprise

National Renewables Infrastructure Plan. Stage 2. Scottish Enterprise

Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan. Chapter 5: Productive / Maritime Transport (Ports and Shipping) Pages 172 - 175 and Chapter 5: Productive / Waste Disposal Pages 176 - 177.

National Marine Plan interactive ( NMPi). Productive/Maritime Transport and Marine Management and Coastal Protection and Waste Disposal sections.

Part 1: Background and context

13.1 Trade is essential to Scotland's economic prosperity, especially in today's global economy. Shipping is an important element of trade. Ports safeguard navigational safety of shipping as well as facilitating trade through the movement of freight, and therefore are vital to the Scottish economy and its growth. Their importance as a marine sector is illustrated by the number of people employed and the contribution to the Scottish economy. It is a competitive sector which takes a market driven approach to its development.

13.2 International protocols and conventions with topics such as security, safety, laws of the sea and pollution apply to shipping and ports. Government and regulators have a responsibility to ensure that measures are implemented in order to honour their commitments to these protocols.

13.3 Ports and harbours provide infrastructure for other sectors of both regional and national importance, including vital support to industries such as fishing, oil and gas, aggregates, aquaculture and the developing marine renewable energy industry. While a few ports specialise in specific cargos, like Glensanda for crushed stone and Sullom Voe for oil, the majority are multi-purpose and undertake a variety of functions even if they are known for one particular commodity, such as Peterhead for fish or Grangemouth for containers. Irrespective of size, ports and harbours make an important socio-economic contribution at regional and national scales.

13.4 It is anticipated that ports will have an increasingly significant role in supporting future growth of the renewables industry thereby further extending their economic importance. They also support the tourism industry by providing landing points for passenger ferries, cruise ships and other marine tourism operators, as well as offering facilities for recreational users. As ports develop to support renewable energy industries, potential increases in capacity may offer greater opportunity for utilisation for the cruise industry. Development of smaller harbour facilities could support a wider diversity of recreational pursuits.

13.5 Lifeline ferry routes support Scotland's more fragile and remote communities, including the islands. Following a comprehensive review of ferry provision throughout Scotland, the Scottish Government has published a long-term Ferries Plan [135] for ferry services to 2022, outlining proposals for the type and level of service each community will receive. Spatial co-ordination of ferries with other modes of transport has an important role to play in providing integrated and sustainable travel options.

13.6 Operating at the interface of marine and terrestrial environments, aligned support of both marine and terrestrial planning processes will be important to ensure the sector can respond to market influences with necessary facilities and transport links.

13.7 Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan and NMPi provide further information on shipping, trade within ports and harbours and ferry routes.


13.8 The majority of port and harbour operations are administered by statutory Harbour Authorities, who have a range of statutory powers or duties for the purpose of improving, maintaining or managing a harbour and for ensuring safety of navigation. Harbour Authorities have considerable autonomy over their area of jurisdiction, which may include permitted development rights. Marine planners and decision makers will have regard for the statutory duties and responsibilities of a Harbour Authority and will consult with them where a proposal for consented development or activity will impact on their operations or property. Where Harbour Authorities are required to apply for licences or other permissions, their applications will be considered in accordance with the objectives and policies of this Plan.

Part 2: Key issues for marine planning


13.9 Oxford Economics estimate that in 2011 [136] , 41,600 people were employed in the maritime services sector in Scotland. Of these, nearly two-thirds were employed in the ports industry with the majority of the remainder employed in shipping. It is also estimated that the maritime services (ports, shipping and maritime businesses) sector contributed over £2.2 billion to the Scottish economy in 2011.


13.10 At any one time, the Scottish marine area is used by a significant number of vessels. Navigational safety is paramount to vessel movement and must be safeguarded. Displacement of shipping should be avoided where possible. Increased journey length increases fuel costs and emissions, and may also impact on frequency of journey required. This in turn may be detrimental to the economic success of some freight types or significantly influence the ports used. It is important that marine planning ensures shipping access and navigational safety to the 11 major commercial ports as well others of economic importance.

13.11 Scottish ports handled 76 million tonnes of foreign and domestic imports and exports in 2012 with 96% being handled by the 11 major ports [137] . They contribute an estimated £1.7 billion to the Scottish economy and account for around 27,300 jobs in Scotland [138] . Foreign imports and exports and domestic traffic will continue to contribute to national and regional economies. Increased freight handling capacity on the Forth, development of the Port of Grangemouth and expansion of facilities at Aberdeen Harbour, as identified as National Developments in the National Planning Framework 3, will support this. However, freight also includes local produce, such as fish and aquaculture products and remote and island communities may rely heavily on local freight services for transportation to markets. Some canal harbours also contribute to freight movement. Recognising that ports provide local and international freight and trade links, supported by effective road and rail infrastructure, co-ordination with terrestrial planning will be important to sustain and facilitate growth of port business and associated enterprises.

13.12 Safeguarding the viability of routes used by shipping, ensuring safety of navigation and encouraging development of Scottish ports and harbours are essential for the continuation and growth of economic prosperity provided by ports and harbours and the variety of sectors they support. This is especially important on the east coast to encourage economic activity and avoid movement away from Scottish ports to, for instance, the Humber or other English east or south coast ports.

13.13 Oil and gas: the location of Scottish ports in relation to oil and gas reserves in the North Sea means they have strategic importance in handling products as well as servicing of industry boats and infrastructure and general support of the industry. Sullom Voe, Flotta, Grangemouth, Aberdeen and Dundee are of particular importance.

13.14 Renewable energy: The National Renewables Infrastructure Plan ( N-RIP) identifies a spatial framework of port and harbour sites, based on best fit locations against offshore renewable industry needs, i.e. construction/installation, manufacturing and inspection, repair and maintenance. The requirements for locations are:

  • The proximity of the port to the renewables site.
  • Sites that have, or have the potential for, integrated manufacturing or space for distributed manufacturing.
  • Appropriate water depth.
  • A skilled workforce.
  • Already have investment plans or agreements of plans.

13.15 N-RIP sets out investment and infrastructure needs for offshore renewable energy, including quayside infrastructure, land remediation/reclamation and change of quayside water depth. An associated £70 million National Renewables Infrastructure Fund, announced in November 2010, will assist with development in the areas covered by Scottish Enterprise. Similar support is being offered to ports in the HIE area. N-RIP 3, currently under development, will consider port requirements to support wave and tidal energy and development.

13.16 It is important to note that opportunities for renewables development and activity are not restricted to the ports identified in N-RIP (Map 10). Indeed, many other ports are currently engaged in discussions with renewables companies around how they can help meet the needs of the industry, including future Operations and Maintenance activity.

13.17 To inform planning in this area, a survey of shipping density, vessel types and drafts, course and destination has been undertaken in Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters. Further studies will be undertaken if required.

13.18 Fishing/aquaculture: Fishing activity is widespread across Scottish ports and harbours, which provide essential support for both local inshore and larger pelagic vessels. Similarly, use by the aquaculture industry is widespread. Many ports offer market and processing facilities which are important to the viability of these sectors, as is transportation of produce. Chapter 6 sets out planning policy to maintain economic links between fishing and land-based activity.

13.19 Aggregates and mineral transhipment: Ports and harbours play an important role in transportation of aggregate material. In Scotland, the most notable is Glensanda Port which services Glensanda Quarry on the Morvern peninsula. It contributes significantly to the Scottish economy, with a business turnover of approximately £40 million and employs 200 people. As the largest hard rock quarry in Europe, it currently transports approximately 6 million tonnes per annum with expansion to 15 million tonnes per annum anticipated. Being a coastal quarry with no land access, it relies entirely on the marine environment for transportation of aggregate, supplies and personnel.

13.20 Tourism and recreation: Ports and harbours can support various elements of tourism/recreation such as cruise liners and smaller vessels, recreational boats, tour operators, charter boats and sea anglers. Small harbours can be of particular importance to local sports, activities and tourism enterprises. Harbours at the interface between canals and the marine area also provide important gateways to the marine environment for leisure craft, offering alternatives to difficult passage around the north mainland and acting as a international gateway for boats arriving from Europe. Maintenance or restoration of harbour facilities can boost local activity and generate social benefits for the local community as well as economic benefits for the harbours; necessary closure for safety purposes can have negative impacts for an activity and a community which previously relied upon the facility. Harbour developments, including marinas, have been successful in supporting increased boating activity with benefits to the sport, as well as local economies.

13.21 Cruise activity in Scotland has the potential to increase: in the future it could be enhanced by the provision of additional capabilities of existing cruise ports and the development of others. Predictions are for cruise liners to increase in size. If this is realised within a Scottish market, ports adapting to support renewable industry may also be able increase capacity to accommodate liners.


13.22 Many of Scotland's more fragile and remote communities are supported by lifeline ferry routes. Many of these routes are subsidised by the Scottish Government or Local Authorities to maintain or improve the economic and social conditions of the Highlands and Islands. This includes support to business and tourism, delivery of goods and access to schools and health care. In 2009, over 10 million passengers and approximately 3 million cars, commercial vehicles and buses were carried on ferries in Scotland.


13.23 Ports and harbours: The main interactions expected in coming years are with commercial shipping freight and continued support of sectors such as fishing, aquaculture and aggregates. Emerging and growth industries such as renewables and tourism and recreational usage, including usage by cruise liners, will also be important. The economic interactions are discussed in previous sections.

13.24 Shipping and ferries: have potential to conflict spatially with recreational pursuits. Consideration will be required should infrastructure to support marine tourism and recreation be planned in areas near lifeline ferry routes or other relevant areas used by shipping now and in the future.

13.25 Risk to shipping navigation may arise from some developments and may lead to increased collision risk, displacement of anchorages and displacement of fishing or recreational vessels into areas used by commercial shipping. Obstructions can lead to increased voyage distance and time resulting in financial and environmental costs, such as emission increases. International maritime law, and in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS), gives obligations to respect the rights of innocent passage and freedom of navigation.

Map 10 NRIP Sites and Ports and Harbours identified as National Developments in Scotland

Map 11 Major Commercial Ports in Scotland


13.26 Ports and harbours, the shipping industry and ferries have a range of impacts on the marine environment. These are discussed in the Marine Atlas: Information for the National Marine Plan. Those of particular interest to marine planning include:

13.27 Habitat loss/damage : Dredging to maintain navigation channels can cause loss or damage to habitats and species and exposure of buried archaeological remains. Dredging may increase if ship size increases and deeper and wider navigation channels are required, and also as a result of port expansion to support the renewables industry. Moorings, anchoring and chain rotation can damage sensitive habitats and disturb upper layers of seabed sediment and potentially heritage assets [139] . Dredging and moorings are licensable activities and therefore their environmental impacts are assessed through licensing procedures.

13.28 Emissions: Carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) and sulphur and nitrogen oxides (air quality pollutants) from global shipping are a significant concern. Prevention of pollution by international shipping represents a significant element in the work of the International Maritime Organization ( IMO), where substantial progress has been made in lowering shipping emissions.

13.29 Biological pressures: Ballast water is internationally accepted as a key vector for incidental movements of aquatic species around the world. The IMO Convention for Ballast Water Management has been drawn up in an effort to reduce the risk of transfer of marine non-native species. Ballast water treatment and management methods are being developed to ensure that the ballast water is treated to a known discharge standard, i.e. any organisms in the discharged ballast water have to be below a certain abundance to comply with the Ballast Water Management Convention.


13.30 In comparison to road transport, shipping is a fuel efficient method of moving bulk freight and is generally the most low carbon method currently available for long-distance movement. Coastal shipping and the movement of goods from Scottish seaports to their destination and vice versa is a lower carbon solution and has additional benefits of removing traffic from the road network.

13.31 At an international level, the International Maritime Organization has adopted technical and operational measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships and is working to develop a market-based measure which will achieve further reductions. Domestically, efficient routing of marine transport can be crucial in minimising fuel consumption, and in Scotland ferry operators and owners are seeking to reduce consumption and CO 2 emissions within the constraints of an ageing fleet. With public attitudes indicating an unwillingness to consider reductions in vessel speeds, most activity in ferries is focused on technological change.

13.32 A changing climate bringing potential changes in storminess and harsher sea conditions could introduce a range of impacts to the transport sector, including disruption to shipping and ferry services and reduction of days at sea. This may pose an issue of accessibility to and between islands and may result in a need for more resilient transport infrastructure.

Part 3: Marine planning policies

Economic SocialTRANSPORT 1: Navigational safety in relevant areas used by shipping now and in the future will be protected, adhering to the rights of innocent passage and freedom of navigation contained in UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS). The following factors will be taken into account when reaching decisions regarding development and use:

  • The extent to which the locational decision interferes with existing or planned routes used by shipping, access to ports and harbours and navigational safety.
  • Where interference is likely, whether reasonable alternatives can be identified.
  • Where there are no reasonable alternatives, whether mitigation through measures adopted in accordance with the principles and procedures established by the International Maritime Organization can be achieved at no significant cost to the shipping or ports sector.

Economic SocialTRANSPORT 2: Marine development and use should not be permitted where it will restrict access to, or future expansion of, major commercial ports or existing or proposed ports and harbours which are identified as National Developments in the current National Planning Framework or as priorities in the National Renewables Infrastructure Plans (Maps 10 and 11).

Regional marine plans should identify regionally important ports and harbours, giving consideration to social and economic aspects of the port or harbour and the users of the facility subject to policies and objectives of this Plan. Regional plans should consider setting out criteria against which proposed activities and developments should be evaluated. <applies to inshore waters only>

Economic SocialTRANSPORT 3: Ferry routes and maritime transport to island and remote mainland areas provide essential connections and should be safeguarded from inappropriate marine development and use that would significantly interfere with their operation. Developments will not be consented where they will unacceptably interfere with lifeline ferry services.

Economic SocialTRANSPORT 4: Maintenance, repair and sustainable development of port and harbour facilities in support of other sectors should be supported in marine planning and decision making. <applies to inshore waters only>

Economic Climate ChangeTRANSPORT 5: Port and harbour operators should take into account future climate change and sea level projections, and where appropriate take the necessary steps to ensure their ports and harbours remain viable and resilient to a changing climate. Climate and sea level projections should also be taken into the account in the design of any new ports and harbours, or of improvements to existing facilities. <applies to inshore waters only>

Economic Marine Ecosystem Climate ChangeTRANSPORT 6: Marine planners and decision makers and developers should ensure displacement of shipping is avoided where possible to mitigate against potential increased journey lengths (and associated fuel costs, emissions and impact on journey frequency) and potential impacts on other users and ecologically sensitive areas [140] .

Economic Social Marine EcosystemTRANSPORT 7: Marine and terrestrial planning processes should co-ordinate to:

  • Provide co-ordinated support to ports, harbours and ferry terminals to ensure they can respond to market influences and provide support to other sectors with necessary facilities and transport links.
  • Consider spatial co-ordination of ferries and other modes of transport to promote integrated and sustainable travel options.

Regional policy: Regional marine plans should consider identifying regionally important ports and harbours and setting out criteria against which proposed development and use should be evaluated.

Part 4: The future

13.33 The future of ports, harbours and shipping will be driven by trends in world trade, available trade routes, transport technology and the development of marine industries.

13.34 A trend for larger ships which require larger ports and wider/deeper navigational channels is expected, although this is more relevant to deep sea container trade than to smaller coastal shipping vessels. New trade routes will open due to receding ice, notably the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route with possible implications for Scottish ports.

13.35 Measures to support shipping emissions reduction targets will be necessary. This may include considering increasing availability of shore based electricity in ports for smaller or recreational vessels, seeking to ensure that ferries and other ships are not forced to take longer routes, and encouraging efficiencies in fleet management and technology advances. Modal shift is currently being supported through Scottish Government Grants [141] . On a large scale it may require associated port and harbour development.

13.36 Climate change may increase the severity of adverse weather and wave conditions, and rising sea levels are likely to put pressure on existing port and harbour infrastructure. In adverse weather some ports may be unusable, particularly smaller harbours.


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