It is an industry riding high on the crest of a wave in Scotland, bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country.

Now a bid is underway to transform a landmark former power station into a new port to take advantage of the country’s booming cruise liner business – and have a multi-million-pound impact on Scotland’s food and drink exports in the process.

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Figures from trade body Cruise Scotland for last year show a 16.75 per cent year-on-year rise in passenger numbers to 794,577, with an 8.4% increase in ships to 825.

And experts say Scotland is now recognised as the second largest growth market globally for the cruise industry.

Prestonpans Community Council is promoting the transformation of the former Cockenzie Power Station, which was decommissioned in March 2013, into a new port. 

It is backed by transport consultant Roy Pedersen, who invented the road equivalent tariff, or RET, the new fare structure designed to ensure crossing water is no more expensive than driving the same distance.

Mr Pedersen, who serves on the Scottish Government’s Expert Ferries Group, said the 230-acre Preston Links site, now owned by East Lothian Council, has a number of advantages that would make it a top spot for cruise ships, including a sheltered location with deep water close to shore, ready access to the main navigation fairway and no height restrictions.

He also believes the port offers the potential for reinstating a Scotland-continent ferry link, estimating up to 1,000 jobs would be generated directly and indirectly from the whole project.

He said: “A further advantage of the new port is that once cruise ships can be berthed alongside, the port is strategically well placed as a cruise turn-around port, which means that the job-generating business of crew change and supplying vessels with food and other necessities presents a significant economic opportunity. 

“Typically, a 4,000 passenger cruise ship requires about £1 million worth of supplies for one week’s cruising, of which a substantial proportion is food and drink, thereby contributing to Scotland’s food and drink exports.”

Calum Miller, a member of Prestonpans Community Council, said one of the factors driving the bid is the attraction of Edinburgh as a cruise ship “honeypot” destination. In a blog, he added that at the core of the problem are Victorian port facilities that can’t scale to handle the bigger cruise liners.

He said: “These ships can’t limbo under the Forth bridges to visit Rosyth, nor squeeze into Leith docks. Instead, passengers are force-ferried on small tenders to South Queensferry or Newhaven harbour.”

Rob Mason, head of Cruise for Capital Cruising, Forth Ports’ cruise business, said, though: “We are extremely proud of our cruise business.

“We are seeing our passenger numbers grow each year, through investment in our facilities and we continue to seek opportunities across the Forth to accommodate the increase in demand from larger cruise liners.”

The key feature of the proposed new port is a simple finger pier, with sufficient length and depth alongside to accommodate the largest cruise ships and a berth for a cruise ferry to provide a nightly service to the continent.

A similar finger pier at Tallinn, Estonia, was built for just £9 million though a more extensive pier and related terminal land at Hatston near Kirkwall cost between £25m and £30m.

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Mr Miller said: “With a little dredging and investment, the biggest ships could soon be gliding alongside a more modern quay with professional facilities. This new terminal would have the capacity to act as a home port, increasing the individual passenger spend in the Lothians to £275.”

Based on bookings, around 1,000 liners are heading for Scottish ports this year, with passenger numbers expected to be up by 15.8% at more than 920,000.

Mr Pederson added: “If handled skilfully, Scotland has the opportunity to reap huge economic benefit from a modern low carbon cruise and ferry port that will transform both our access to continental markets, but will create a world ferry and class cruise turn-around port that is so lacking at present.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said: “A port for cruise is one of a number of ideas that have been promoted for the site. Technical work would be required to determine viability including a port engineering study, an environmental assessment and an economic analysis.”