1. From pole to pole
2. A case for more efficiency
3. Big ships steer clear
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British container ports have a real need to expand with the increase in world trade, but with land scarce and becoming more expensive, they are faced with having to rely more upon the rail infrastructure. Britain's container ports are fast running out of capacity, due to increasing world trade. For the distribution industry, this lack of land poses a major dilemma. Successful ports such as Southampton, which handles almost half the UK's trade with the Far East are coming under increasing pressure to expand, yet the little space available is very expensive. Three new ports are being proposed, all in the south-east: at Dibden Bay, across from Southampton port; Bathside Bay next to Harwich, and Shell Haven in the Thames Estuary. Within the industry lies the view that either one of Shellhaven or Dibden will go ahead, at the expense of the other. The Dibden proposal, put forward by Associated British Ports (ABP), is undergoing a year-long planning inquiry in Southampton, while ProLogis Developments has bought three strategic sites within 20 miles of Shell Haven. Earlier this year P&O and Shell submitted a planning application to turn the 1,500 acre (607 ha) refinery site into one of the South East's largest container ports.
As the UK's leading vehicle-handling port, there are fears that the incapacity of Southampton, as well as other ports, to accommodate more may see Britain losing out to competitors.
Robert Orrett, director at ATIS Real Weatheralls' Bristol office says: "If ships can't fit into Southampton they will go to Rotterdam. Business
will move away from the UK in favour of other European ports." Others in the industry say this is already the case.
From pole to pole
The market is showing signs of polarisation, with Southampton and the Humber coming under pressure for land, while opportunities in less crowded locations such as Felixstowe still exist for expansion.
According to Phillip Williams, group property director at ABP, development at each of its ports is looked at on its merits. Teignmouth on the south coast is too compact to offer more land, whereas in Barry; South Wales, 198 acres of surplus land has been identified, with similar significant acreage set aside in Swansea; 100 acres has been developed in Cardiff over the last 10 years.
On the east coast Humberside ports such as Goole, Grimsby and Immingham, extra space is even scarcer, although parcels of land do exist on the peripheries of each.
As much of this is mixed-use development, does this mean distribution land is losing out to residential developments as waterside living becomes increasingly fashionable?
Williams says: "There are premium land values for waterside sites, which means in many cases it is more cost effective to locate distribution on the hinterland." He does not see this as presenting logistical problems, in terms of moving cargo from the ports.
While lack of land proves a continuing conundrum, Bowles points to novel ways of increasing activity, such as looking for modern ways of providing covered storage. He says: "Even if ports can't provide floor space they can provide storage space."
He suggests building terminals into water areas. In Hull, parliamentary powers have granted permission to develop four river berths. One has been developed for the berth of super cruisers, while the development of a second is currently being considered.
A case for more efficiency
Mike Hill, estates manager at ABP Hull, says: "Hull has seen a steady increase in tonnage but there is a shortage of space. All sites are fully let and areas of land are dwindling. Lack of space means using the areas we have in a more efficient way. Land that is available is further from
the quay, which is a problem when customers want to be as near to the quay as possible. In fact, very few land areas are in close proximity." However, he stresses that expansion into water must consider environmental issues.
Ports nationwide face opposition from green groups, but Orrett of ATIS Real Weatheralls contends: "The planning green paper is supposed to help balance development with the environment. If you work for the ABP, I think it is pretty obvious they should proceed with Dibden Bay. We have got to have some progression. We can't let the country lose its competitiveness." The other option for the distribution industry focuses away from land issues to improving logistics, which addresses the problem of property by allowing goods to be located further away from the ports themselves. ABP has set up a logistics division, ABP Connect, for road and rail freight distribution. ABP Connect is also looking at other distribution markets such as cargo handling facilities within sites and also manages various storage facilities. It was set up to support the traditional port business by adding value with logistic services.
Mike Fernandez, sales and development director at ABP Connect recently attended a conference in Amsterdam, where he says: "They were saying if we don't gear property to what the customer wants, the customer may take its business elsewhere. A port in South America began to lose business and then convinced shippers to return by building facilities. ABP Connect is about working out what the customer wants." He has noted the move in customer requirements towards a one-stop shop.
Fernandez says of the property perspective of operations: "In ports land is very expensive and very scarce, so we have to move produce away from the port. We look at where the customer is. Some want goods delivered directly to where they are located and some want a cost-effective service taking goods inland."
Orrett is concerned that getting out of the port world and into transportation will bring problems of its own with the rail network. He says: "Freight is a minor part of our rail system and there is only so much throughput. Neither is road freight the answer in the long term." Fernandez believes in the future ports will move to more up-river locations.
Traditionally ports have not got involved with logistics operations, nor conversely have logistic companies partnered with ports. While the
logistics industry has moved to managing the supply chain at closer quarters with ports, he thinks there still exists a lack of recognition from the ports for the role of logistics companies.
Big ships steer clear
As smaller feeder ships in the UK ports replace the larger container ships which now head to other European locations, Fernandez believes initiatives such as Dibden will attract the larger cargoes back to this country. But for now bigger ships are a physical impossibility for our ports.
In terms of offering a more innovative approach, he says: "We are looking at where produce is going. For example, with one of our customers, the vast majority of produce is going to the West Midlands, so why not store it there where the client is."
He stresses the need to look at orders received and how the customer wants them delivered. His message to port owners is: "They should recognise that in 10 years, the structure of our business will be different. Service will have to be innovative. Ports should investigate techniques used by third-party logistics people as well as learning from the rest of the world how commodities are handled."
PHOTO (COLOR): As feeder ships in UK ports replace the larger container ships, initiatives such as Dibden Bay will attract the larger cargoes back to ports like Southampton (above)
By Helen Osborne