Dartmouth residents and businesses are split over the prospect of hosting larger cruise ships as part of an initiative to attract more visitors and revenue to the coastal town.

The Dart Harbour Authority is carrying out a consultation process to explain the benefits of admitting bigger cruise ships of up to 250 metres in length (currently, the upper limit is normally 160 metres) and which can carry about 2,500 passengers.

A decision is expected by September, but if the proposal goes ahead, DHA believes it would mean an additional £2.7 million a year for Dartmouth, with each ship “expected to bring an average of around £80,000 benefit to the local economy”.

This would more than double the number of annual cruise calls by 2030, resulting in an additional 25,000 cruise passengers visiting Dartmouth and surrounding areas.

Mayor David Wells has said he personally backed the idea “100 per cent” while a source close to the local business community acknowledged that the sector is split over the issue.

The chair of Dartmouth and Kingswear Society, Robert Brook, is leading the opposition against the move
The chair of Dartmouth and Kingswear Society, Robert Brook, is leading the opposition against the move (Robert Brook)

The chair of Dartmouth and Kingswear Society, Robert Brook, is leading the opposition against the move, saying residents were unaware of the consultation process.

“Residents are totally in the dark about this. I don’t think there is a challenge to existing vessels parked in the middle of the river, but the sheer scale and complexity of these larger cruise ships is unknown and definitely not appreciated,” he said.

“There’s massive disquiet that the harbour board have failed totally to even acknowledge our wish to have a greater input,” he added.

He did not think the current consultation process would address concerns, either environmental or financial, and dismissed the perceived benefits as “crazy”.

“It’d be folly to say there is no benefit, but they are approaching it with very narrow eyes. Ships of this size will need at least two large powerful tugs, which have to be obtained from a distant port and are expensive to charter,” he said.

Paul Britton, Dartmouth’s harbour master and CEO, told us that the local council and businesses were broadly on board with the proposal.

He also dismissed fears Dartmouth would be over-crowded during the summer, as the peak cruise season is mostly in April, May and September.

“It’s the point when the town is open but not crowded. It provides additional numbers of people when there aren’t normally many in the town,” he said.

Neither light nor noise pollution was expected to be a problem as only two ships would be expected to stay overnight, while onboard parties would be banned.

But he acknowledged air pollution was a bigger concern - marine diesel pollutes far more than car diesel, as it contains 3,500 times more sulphur and particulate matter.

A recent study on the sustainability of cruise tourism destinations noted that cruise passengers’ spending was “an important source of income for the local population, businesses and municipalities” but added that this was sensitive to factors such as seasonality, types of activities available at the destination and the length of stay.

It also warned of tourist overcrowding and infrastructure congestion, and stressed the need to involve the collaboration of the local community.