Tuesday, September 30, 2014

UK Ports Demand Government Intermodal Support as Investment in Energy Logistics Continues

Operators Object to EU Methods and Want Better Infrastructure and Safety
Shipping News Feature

UK – The United Kingdom Major Ports Group (UKMPG) has taken advantage of Party Conference season and launched a new manifesto to demand government support for the industry. With nine members representing forty one of the UK’s major ports, UKMPG is calling on the politicians to fight against the proposed EU Port Services Regulation which it says is a major threat to the nation’s ports industry. Resolving the issue is now a race against time with the Italian Presidency aiming to reach a political agreement by 8 October. The port operators want assurances about investment in intermodal infrastructure and a raft of other measures including support for skills and safety training.

The manifesto also appeals for a joined up approach across Government and a better land and marine planning system which will allow ports to invest when and where necessary. The Rt Hon John Hayes MP Minister of State for Transport with responsibility for Ports welcomed the manifesto and said:

“This government recognises that the UK ports sector is an important contributor to our economic growth. I am proud to have forged such a close partnership with the sector through the strategic partnership plan for ports developed jointly with industry and across government. I commend the work of the UKMPG in delivering our shared goals.”

Politicians of every hue have been targeted by the UKMPG and, speaking at the launch event at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, Shadow Minister for Transport, Gordon Marsden MP, said:

“I was delighted to help launch the Ports for Prosperity manifesto which is full of laudable measures to help us recognise ports as the great economic assets they are. We need national and local government to put ports at the heart of intelligent, long-term planning. But even more pressing today is the need for ministers to be robust in Europe and stop new regulations placing unnecessary burdens on our vibrant, competitive ports and jeopardising the working conditions of those employed within them.”

Demands over the EU are certainly the most pressing at the moment with the UKMPG pointing out that, unlike many other member states in the EU, the UK’s ports operate on a commercial basis and largely without subsidy. The ports position is that the EU needs to do more to promote fair and unsubsidised competition between major international ports. Other EU measures such as the proposed EU Port Services Regulation would impose red tape, cause uncertainty and put investment and jobs at risk and must be fought off. Another key demand is for better road and rail links to facilitate better intermodal transport, itself a key government target with a desire to see more rail borne freight.

The manifesto asks that in future government departments work better together and with the industry to maximise the benefit of ports for the nation, a ‘single strategy’ for ports. It says that a better land and marine planning system will allow ports to invest when and where it is needed. It can also help unlock ports full potential to help rebalance the economy, and drive export-led growth. Ports can be ideal locations for new manufacturing industry and distribution centres and planning decisions need to be based on up to date and accurate market demand information.

Despite a drastic improvement in the safety record of the industry in the past few years more could still be done. UKMPG asks that the government contributes through support for training and apprenticeships and strong partnerships working on health and safety. UKMPG Executive Director Richard Bird said:

“Ports are vital for the UK but do not always receive the attention they deserve. We do not look for subsidy but need Government support in other ways so we can continue to provide the high quality and competitive service our customers and the country rightly demand.”

The launch events were supported by Associated British Ports (ABP), which as Britain’s biggest owner and operator runs twenty one UK ports, and who just this week, announced details of its own latest major investment to further the cause of the UK’s energy logistics field. ABP Chief Executive, James Cooper, said:

“The ports industry makes a massive contribution to the economic wellbeing of the UK but there is so much more we could do, and we urgently need the support of Government to make this possible. That is why ABP is pleased to be able to support Ports4Prosperity. This Manifesto sets out the key requirements of the industry to UK Government, which will enable UK ports to continue to deliver growth and prosperity for the benefit of the nation.”

ABP’s latest investment is the installation of newly designed lock gates at the group’s Port of Grimsby where the lock leading to the port’s Royal Dock has seen both inner and outer lock gates replaced, as well as extensive repairs to the cills that the gates abut. The £5 million project forms part of an agreement between ABP and DONG Energy, which is building facilities for its own operations and maintenance base at the port, alongside other energy companies including E.On, Centrica and Siemens. ABP Supervising Engineer Dave Good explained why the gates needed to be replaced, saying:

“The existing lock gates were semi buoyant and as such can only work for six hours around high tide. This gives us an operations window of around 12 hours in every 24. The new gates are of a single-skin construction and are non-buoyant, with much stiffer anchorages so we can work for almost 24 hours. This will allow our newer customers, the energy companies who run their operations and maintenance (O&M) activities from Grimsby, to work regular day shifts, rather than having to work around high tide, which could be any time of the day or night.”

The old gates weigh 70 tonnes each and were last replaced in 1982. The replacement gates measure 12 metres by 9 metres and each weighs 72 tonnes. Designed and constructed by Dutch contractor Ravestein, they were craned into place after work to repair the damaged cills had been completed. ABP Port Manager Grimsby & Immingham Mike Sellers said:

"This is about making the dock more accessible, becoming a 24-hour port rather than being tidally restricted. We want to attract more of this business to Grimsby. It is now a major hub for operations and maintenance businesses in the offshore wind industry, and this is another example of ABP investing to grow the port."

Photo: Atop the newly installed lock gates are (l to r) Dave Good, Mike Sellers, DONG Energy’s Jason Ledden and Richard Simpson of Ravenstein.