Is the Port of Falmouth witnessing the final death throes of the multi-million pound capital dredging scheme proposed for the port, as the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) continues to vacillate over the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners (FHC) dredging application? 

Captain Mark Sansom, harbour master and chief executive of the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners would not comment on the MMO stance but FHC made the following statement : “Unfortunately, our dredging proposal for the approach channel into Falmouth Docks has failed to make significant progress to date despite considerable effort on our part.  Our request for the MMO to review its appropriate assessment resulted in a disagreement about the application of case law.  This discussion is still on-going and we are therefore unable to make further comment.” 

In 2016 FHC submitted an updated Habitats Regulation Assessment of the potential impact on the environment relating to the scheme and the MMO was asked to review the application once more. 

Then came another stumbling block when the MMO and FHC disagreed over the interpretation of case law. 

Last year FHC and the MMO agreed to jointly commission an independent consultant to provide an impartial review of the interpretation of the case law relevant to the proposal and report their finding to both parties. 

The capital dredging scheme was first mooted in 2000. Since then it has hit numerous environmental and funding issues along the way.  

The MMO announced in 2011 that it was not granting the dredging application because the dredging site fell within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).  

Within the SAC is maerl or calcified seaweed and to date the MMO has been against any kind of dredging in the area claiming that it would harm the maerl beds. 

A port masterplan was unveiled that would make Falmouth the “gateway to Cornwall ” with a dedicated cruise ship berth and new port infrastructure. This berth would also act as a major shiprepair berth for A&P Falmouth at other times in the year, allowing it to attract larger commercial ships. 

In 2012 Cornwall Council (CC) indicated that it could pay the £23 million estimated costs of the project. A year later CC revised its budget and removed £9 million set aside for the dredging.  The Local Enterprise Partnership did not include the scheme in its proposal for a bid for Government funding in 2016. 

Despite various government ministers, including previous Chancellor George Osborne, making hollow statements about government funding during visits to the port it appears that the project may be badly holed below the waterline, with the MMO’s final decision way over the horizon and public funding almost zero. 

On a visit to the docks in 2015 Mr Osborne  said “ Dredging must happen. Government money may be available to help fund the multi-million pound scheme.” 

As Falmouth is kept dangling in mid-air by the mandarins at the MMO over whether or not it will finally give permission for the capital dredging programme to go ahead other ports are reaping the rewards of the burgeoning European cruise market. 

All around us other European ports are investing in port infrastructure and dredging projects to maximise their potential for attracting the world’s leading cruise ship companies too use their ports.  

One only has to visit the Cruise Europe website at to witness first hand the huge amount of money being invested in the cruise industry 

According to the latest Cruise Industry News annual report the global cruise industry is on an “unprecedented growth course”, reflected by its record order book of some 106 cruise ships due to come into service during the next ten years. 

Industry analysts say that the 2018 prediction of 27 million passengers taking cruises can grow to 39 million by 2027. 

In this port the number cruise calls each year will hover around 30/35 ships due to ever decreasing depths in the main channel into the docks and the lack of a dedicated deep berth cruise berth. 

The dredged channel into the docks was 6.1 metres after extensive dredging in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today, the depth at chart datum in the main channel is down to 5.0 metres which drastically reduces the tidal window for deep drafted ships using the port. 

Cornwall has missed out on a massive opportunity to showcase Falmouth, one of the world’s most beautiful ports, to the cruise ship companies and thousands of passengers.  

Millions and millions of pounds of lost  revenue generated by these companies has been lost to Cornwall as a whole, along with hundreds of jobs in the marine and leisure sectors.  

Evidence of this cruiseship revenue can be seen by directly comparing Falmouth to the Port of Cork in Ireland where major investment has paid off. Like Falmouth the cruise calls were down in the 30’s and 40’s until port managers kick started an investment programme in berths and dredging. 

This year Cobh is expecting a record 94 cruise ship calls. Cobh and Falmouth are popular ports during the northern European cruise season which lasts from April until October. However,  the larger behemoths will not anchor off  in Falmouth as tendering thousands of passengers ashore is a logistical nightmare. A study carried last year out by the Port of Cork on passenger and crew spend should make people in Cornwall realise what has been lost here over the years. 

The Port of Cork Commercial Manager Captain Michael McCarthy said: ‘We have seen a massive surge in cruise calls for 2018 with a 30% increase in numbers. These calls will bring outstanding economic growth to Cork City and County between March and September, with over 180,000 passengers stepping ashore and 80,000 crew.’  

The results of the cruise research also highlighted an increase in passenger and crew spend. On average, cruise ship passengers spend €81 during their time in Cork; with 42% of this money being spent on shopping, 32% on excursion travel and 17% on food and drink. Typically crew spend approximately €29, with most of the money being spent on food and drink and/or shopping.