FIVE months ago, Jim McSporran became Port Director at Clydeport in interesting times – but his enthusiasm is undiminished by the exceptional challenges that both Covid-19 and Brexit have posed to the sector.

He speaks of the “180 degree” transformation the marine gateway to Scotland is undergoing and the huge potential for job creation. Clydeport is part of the Peel Ports Group network, one of the largest operators in the United Kingdom, comprising King George V Dock (KGV), Greenock Ocean Terminal, Inchgreen Dry Dock, Hunterston PARC and Ardrossan.

He is also duty holder of the Clydeport Authority and the Ardrossan Port Authority, 480 square nautical miles of water. McSporran was previously Group Managing Director of Streamline Shipping Group based in Aberdeen and before that business development director with Peterson Offshore Group, running a diverse range of international assets across the Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and India.

Clydeport was a company he already knew well: “I understood the challenges but also, from an outside perspective, the opportunities and I was able to gather early momentum.”

In the month of the inauguration of a new US President, he appropriately recalls his first 100 days at Clydeport. “Partly this was about making sure we had the right people and I found I was blessed with a really impressive team at all the sites.”

Clydeport also has a remit in Ireland where it operates the Dublin container terminal, Marine Terminals Ltd (MTL). Hunterston Port and Resource Campus – PARC – In North Ayrshire – is a 300-acre site that was historically used for the bulk import of coal, a market that ended with the closure of Scotland’s coal-fired power stations, the last at Longannet in 2016.

“That represented a very big part of turnover which has disappeared. We’ve been remediating and improving old infrastructure and are targeting the blue and green economies, looking to bring in sustainable aquaculture with some big, world-renowned companies on the site,” he explains.

Some have already signed up while others are at various stages of sign-off. He points out that there is the potential for renewables, finfish farming, processing value-added services to finfish and shellfish and university-led R&D.

“These represent big investments,” says McSporran. “At 250 metres long, our dry dock is the biggest in Scotland and our jetty is 450 metres long and 38 metres deep. These are huge assets – one customer is aiming to take 60 acres and build a manufacturing facility which will employ 250 people. That represents the scale of the businesses coming in.

“We’re creating an R&D facility, the Hunterston PARC Campus, with Strathclyde University, Scottish Enterprise and North Ayrshire Council and are getting support from the National Growth Fund to help us do that – really exciting developments.”

Clydeport has had several inquiries regarding offshore renewables following the ScotWind initiatives in the west of the Scotland and he is speaking with all the major companies in the sector while as part of the circular economy there are plans for a possible cluster of data providers.

Meanwhile, Hunterston, with its large dry dock is also a working port. “Its strength lies in its location, allowing for a broad range of options for occupation. It’s able to serve a variety of business, improving the journey of goods from Scotland to the rest of the world. Decommissioning enquiries are also coming in.

“Now that the site has been cleared and people can see this impressive infrastructure, it’s coming on to their radars so we’re looking at a number of projects involving high-end engineering works,” says McSporran.

Further down the coast, Greenock Ocean Terminal is the largest container terminal on Scotland’s west coast, dealing in imports and exports to Europe, the US, the Americas, and other inter-continental traffic. It’s a busy terminal and, post Brexit, with the growing congestion at Dover and other ports, it’s going to get busier.

“We’ve prepared for that, looking at traffic management, how we can get more throughput and have taken on the overspill, including from the east coast of Scotland, without missing a beat.”

The Government, he says, has produced an infrastructure package to help ports such as Greenock deal with that excess capacity and grow even further.

“Our plan is to grow throughput on the site by 25 or 30 per cent without also growing its footprint, by improving the traffic management and layout to create more space for trucks and containers. We’re also cooperating in new border post facilities, a project that’s under way and will be complete by mid-2021.”

Greenock Ocean Terminal is the only gateway on Scotland’s west coast that allows deep sea vessels to come alongside and the twin-berth terminal is an ideal destination for cruise ships, at the heart of a motorway, airport and rail network and with experienced stevedoring porters and passenger handling staff.

“When I arrived, the terminal was handling an average of 75 cruise ships per year which surprised me, as ports such as Belfast, Dublin and Lerwick have more. I would argue that Glasgow and the many other attractions in a 25-mile radius of Greenock have much more to offer passengers,” he says.

McSporran set a target of 100 cruise ships by 2021 and until earlier this month 103 had booked. Some have cancelled owing to the protracted and uncertain nature of the Coronavirus lockdown throughout Europe, but he believes that when the vaccination programme is more advanced and confidence returns, business will take off.

“My further target is higher than that,” he says. “We can do more, and with support from Inverclyde Council, we’ve invested £16m in building a dedicated floating cruise jetty, a pretty fantastic piece of engineering just to the east of Ocean Terminal.

“Until last year we were bringing cruise ships alongside container ships – which wasn’t the most efficient way of doing it – and this new jetty will help us achieve our ambitions to initially attract 100 cruise ships to Greenock and the Clyde”.


JIM McSporran has big ambitions for Inchgreen Dry Dock and Repair Quay at Greenock, which could see boat building return to the area.

There are plans for it to be transformed into a major marine industry hub: “We’re looking at projects where we could be building boats at Inchgreen, proper boats,” he says.

It’s already one of the largest operational dry docks in Europe, with berthage and direct access to the deep-water channel in the Firth of Clyde on a 32-acre site within the Inverclyde region which has been identified in the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan (NRIP) and benefits from £9.4 million of Glasgow City Deal funding.

The dry dock is multi-purpose, used for civil construction (for instance, floating dock gates), for shipbuilding and ship repair or decommissioning, a sector that is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5% between 2020 and 2025 owing to the ageing offshore infrastructure in oil and gas industry and the move to renewable energy sources and Peel Ports has been working with key companies involved in the decommissioning sector.

“Inchgreen was a shipbuilding facility for many years,” he says. “It’s clear there isn’t much activity on the Clyde nowadays apart from naval vessels, but we are just about to kick off a programme of extensive works at Inchgreen. It hasn’t had much positive publicity in recent years owing to a perception of inactivity, but we are set to invest £1.4 million refurbishing our boat shed. It’s an iconic building but not currently in the best condition. I recognised that and decided that if we wanted to bring back boat building and shipbuilding to the facility, we had to improve the asset, so with Inverclyde Council we secured money to restore it to a new condition.”

That work is starting, and the aim is to finish it by the end of March. McSporran says that this will involve a “pretty aggressive” programme to turn Inchgreen into a modern, workable site.

“The offshoot of that programme will be that there will be a new demand for skilled labour in the area, involving many skills that many people assumed had been lost.”

Which is good news for job creation, involving as it does a planned apprenticeship scheme, which is something he says is close to his heart. Funds have been secured, he adds, to refurbish the whole of Inchgreen, with improvements such as improving the quay wall, dredging the harbour to allow boats to come alongside again and even before work has started, he reports a “tsunami of enquiries” with the potential of several hundred new jobs.

“Inchgreen is a big site that lends itself to creating high quality work and high employment numbers. Inverclyde will welcome the boost this will bring to the local economy. We’re very pleased that we’ve managed to get this far, and we intend to deliver some transformational work in the next year. We’re working apace and haven’t wasted a minute to get to where we are and I’m going to be relentless in turning both Hunterston and Inchgreen around.”


BRITAIN’S exit from the EU has led to proposals for several freeports around the UK, which are designed to offer a range of benefits, including tax and planning advantages as well as in customs and tariffs. “When the UK government announced the initiative to develop 10-plus freeports in the UK with possibly two in Scotland, I saw it as a huge opportunity,” says Jim McSporran. “The Scottish government’s ‘undecided’ opinion has changed, and I’ve shared my positive views with several stakeholders on the subject. “This is not something to be left behind on: if there are freeports in England and Belfast and we don’t offer these benefits there will be a movement of business out of Scotland. “The port industry is united in this, we’d like to be involved and there should be two freeports – one on the west coast and one on the east."