CREATING a cruise terminal off the coast of East Lothian could be no more expensive than building a new school, it has been claimed.

A conference hosted by Prestonpans Community Council heard that building a cruise port could prove cost effective for East Lothian Council, which owns the land, if it were then leased to port operators.

Transport consultant Roy Pedersen, from Port of Copenhagen, told a gathering of councillors, officials and interested parties that a similar project in his homeland had been successfully introduced at a cost of £25 million.

And he said that the cruise ship terminal at Visby was built by its local authority and then leased to a private company for 20 years in a move which would repay most of the capital cost.

Prestonpans Community Council, which is promoting the idea of a cruise ship port at the former Cockenzie Power Station site, said the Copenhagen example showed how it could work.

Urging East Lothian Council to take the idea forward and investigate its potential, they said in a statement: “Such a capital cost does not seem so very different from the cost of building a school and would repay for itself over time under a lease arrangement with the public sector retaining ownership.”

The conference was addressed by community councillor Calum Miller, who told the invited audience: “There is a huge untapped potential for businesses across East Lothian, the creation of a hospitality college, re-stocking ships with local goods and produce, as well as the income that could be generated for the council from port fees”.

The meeting, in Prestonpans last Friday, had been criticised by some members of neighbouring Cockenzie and Port Seton  community who oppose the port.

It is understood at least one resident wrote to the local authority’s chief executive expressing concern that officials would be attending the meeting and calling it “a grave mistake” to do so.

A council spokesperson said: “It was entirely appropriate for council members and officers to take up invitations to attend. The seminar event consisted of presentations around cruise and port potential for the site.”

East Lothian Council produced its own masterplan for the site, which is described as a vision document, but plans are on hold as the outcome of a planning application to build a substation on the land is decided by Scottish Ministers.

The council said a series of spring ‘engagement events’ were planned for local communities to discuss the future of the site.