The Case for a Working Dry Dock at Govan

Govan Graving Docks [Glasgow, Scotland] ceased operation as a working dry dock facility in 1987, not as a result of a lack of demand, but largely as a result of the fees levied for navigation access by the port authority at the time.

In spite of the relatively large number of ferries and other vessels serving the West Coast of Scotland there is currently a limited supply of dry dock and maintenance facilities in the region, insufficient to cope with the demand for repair work on the vessels operating there. As a result a lot of the maintenance work on Scottish coastal fleets is going further afield such as to Merseyside.

With shipbuilding on the Clyde no longer looking like an industry in its death throes, the case for recommissioning at least one of the dry docks at Govan has never been greater. Even without immediate demand we need to consider the potential scope of future needs. Anecdotally to build an entirely new dry dock like one of those at Govan would cost in the region of quarter of a billion pounds and even then it would not be created from such unique crafted materials. The walls of the dry docks at Govan are constructed from hand carved granite and even though they are more than 120 years old are structurally superior to many modern docks that are built with concrete walls and requiring a more frequent maintenance cycle.

We need to consider the wider economic needs of the Clyde Corridor and any future moves to reindustrialise the river. In this context Govan Graving Docks would represent a significant marine infrastructure asset. For this reason it must be preserved in the short to medium term in a condition that would allow at least one of the dry docks to be brought back into use relatively quickly for commercial ship repair.

What we have seen on even the lower Clyde in recent decades is conscious removal of the industrial infrastructure that in most places has rendered any form of reindustrialisation, even for development of modern marine industries cost prohibitive. There is a knock on impact from this on the potential for sustainable growth of Scotland’s economy as a whole. This is something the Scottish Government and elected representatives in the Clyde Corridor cannot ignore unless Scotland has permanently resigned itself to being a post-industrial, low-skill economy in a state of managed decline. Not something that supports arguments for greater fiscal autonomy much less independence.

The dry docks at Govan are too small and inaccessible for large ocean going ships but they are ideally sized for passenger and car ferries, smaller commercial vessels and even superyachts.

The West Coast of Scotland, being relatively sheltered with sea lochs and islands, is an ideal location to create a world-class hub for cutting-edge (and more importantly sustainable) marine and maritime industries but little if anything is being done to unlock and develop this potential. We need to protect those infrastructure assets that do exist that could form part of any future marine/maritime economic strategy.

Govan Graving Docks is a site of national and international maritime significance and too unique to be allowed to be turned into an exclusive housing development as has happened to so many docks in Britain. We must avoid too a scenario where local Councillors with parochial agendas can attempt to turn it into a political football for their own ends – which would scupper prospects for any widely beneficial restoration of the site.

The restoration of Govan Graving Docks is a project that calls for innovation, for social entrepreneurs not bureaucrats.

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1 Comment

  1. I think there is a real argument for the restoration of the Govan dry docks not just for the historic side of it but the practical side if it can be used as a working commercial enterprise. ..

    Liked by 1 person

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