The new £37m Stena Line ferry terminal has been officially opened in the Port of Belfast by the Northern Ireland First Minister, Rt Hon Dr Ian Paisley MP in his last official engagement. He was joined by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP MLA and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond MP MSP.The three ministers were among 250 invited guests attending the launch of the three-storey, 35,000 sq ft facility which has been built by Belfast Harbour Commissioners on reclaimed land on Westbank Road at the edge of the Port.
Len O’Hagan, the Port of Belfast Chairman, said: “In an age where the prevailing philosophy seems not to believe in long-term rewards from long-term investments, I must commend previous Harbour Commissioners and previous management teams who have sought to plan Port developments around the needs of the local economy with a view which extended decades into the future,” he said.
“In addition to the terminal itself, I am also pleased to confirm that work on a new four lane road linking the terminal directly to the motorway network will begin at the end of this year with a view to completing it in time for the start of the 2009 summer season.
“Our vision is to create a gateway which reflects Northern Ireland’s new found optimism - optimism which is soaring high upon the potential which a return to stable devolution has unleashed,” he added.
Stena Line’s owner, Dan Sten Olson stressed the importance of the new port to Stena Line’s Irish Sea operations and confirmed that the leading ferry company will continue to invest in the route between Belfast and Scotland with its intention to relocate its current port in Stranraer to a proposed new purpose-built facility at Old House Point.
Dan Sten Olson said, “The Irish Sea is a key part of Stena Line’s international business and also one of its strongest growing markets and as such is an area in which Stena Line is keen to invest. Together with the planned new facility at Old House Point on the Scottish coast, this new terminal provides a striking, modern facility that reflects the future of ferry travel in this country.
“Our customers understand that travelling by ferry is a convenient and comfortable way to cross the Irish Sea and we are seeing some evidence of a shift away from the “no frills” airlines to the more customer-focused service that we at Stena Line can provide. In spite of the volatile fuel market, in the first quarter of 2008 Stena Line’s Irish Sea routes carried a total of 14 per cent more cars and 13 per cent more passengers compared with the same period last year.
“Our strategy of a rolling investment programme which has included £150m in this route alone over the last ten years has been matched by our commitment to customer service. I feel that this exciting development combined with the new port that we are planning to build in Scotland will only serve to further enhance our offering in this market,” he concluded.
Stena Line is the market leader on the Irish Sea, offering the biggest fleet and the widest choice of routes from Ireland to Britain, including the Belfast to Stranraer, Larne to Fleetwood, Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Port to Holyhead and Rosslare to Fishguard routes. The company carries over three million passengers on its Irish Sea routes each year, more than its rival ferry operators combined. The VT4 terminal has been in operation since the beginning of May.