Moves are afoot to fast-track ports through the UK’s convoluted planning process, but getting to the construction phase will still be a challenge. Mark Hansford reports.
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This month’s government announcement that ports are to be fast-tracked through the planning process and that there is to be a new planning framework for port development has been widely welcomed by the ports industry and by businesses.
The framework is contained in a draft ports National Policy Statement (NPS) which sets out the broad need for additional ports capacity up to 2030 and beyond.
This statement is published by the Department for Transport (DfT) and will inform the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) who will make decisions regarding new ports in England and Wales. British Ports Association chairman Stephen Bracewell says the move “has a lot of positives”.
“First and foremost it recognises that the industry will have to expand to cope with demand and that sufficient port capacity is an essential part of the country’s economic wellbeing. These are important messages for the planning authorities,” he says.
“The industry will have to expand to cope with demand and that sufficient port capacity is an essential part of the country’s economic wellbeing.”
Stephen Bracewell, British Ports Association
“We also welcome the restatement of the government’s commitment to a market-led industry. This also means that it is ultimately up to developers to decide where capacity is needed, and also to take the risk.” Business lobby group the CBI’s director of business environment Neil Bentley also welcomed the move.
“New port facilities are going to play an important role in building a low carbon future by allowing renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, to be deployed. They will also be the key to building the infrastructure for the new gas termini that will be needed to develop liquefied natural gas,” he says.
The new NPS is now subject to public consultation and will apply to major developments of at least 500,000 TEU (Twentyfoot Equivalent Unit − a measure of container units) per year − this equates to a port about one-sixth of the size of Felixstowe.
The IPC will consider issues including good design, environmental habitats, infrastructure connections, air emissions, noise, waste management plans and water quality when making decisions on port developments. Developers will be urged to develop masterplans as the basis for engaging with stakeholders.
New development plans
So with plenty of hoops left to jump through, it means good times for consultants looking to capitalise on any new development plans. Consultant Gifford is already expanding its port development and marine engineering team and has appointed Gavin Lloyd as technical director.
Lloyd, who has 20 years’ experience designing ports, container terminals and other coastal and marine facilities around the world, says the key to future developments winning IPC approval will be getting the masterplan right.
“There will have to be an increasing use of port simulation tools to analyse how the port will be operated, and what will be the knock-on effects on traffic congestion around ports and on the environment,” he says. “Greening of ports is going to be the biggest issue.”
“The skill is spotting what is really important to the port operator − is it cost? Or is it flexibility?”
Gavin Lloyd, Gifford
Lloyd has joined Gifford from the Middle East where he was the design manager for Abu Dhabi Port Company’s Khalifa Port and prior to that Dubai Ports World’s Jebel Ali Container Terminal. He has also been responsible for design at the King Abdullah Economic City Port near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
“In my experience of three $2.5bn (£1.8bn) ports, without a proper simulation exercise the arguments about how the port is going to operate are still going on, in one case even after the port has been built.
“The time for debating how the port is going to operate needs to be when it is in a virtual world,” he says. “And then the skill is spotting what is really important to the port operator − is it cost? Or is it flexibility?”
Work out there
Now in the UK, and while attention focuses on the London Gateway in Essex, Lloyd has an expansion of Southampton Container Terminal in his sights. And while London Gateway owner DP World continues to review all its port plans around the world, Lloyd is confident that there is work out there.
He has worked on major ports and coastal projects in Lithuania, Italy, Holland, the US and Africa in the past, and he sees developments in Algeria and Libya − along with Korea and Vietnam - as hot prospects. Wherever the work is, environmental concerns will be paramount. “The environment now is almost dictating the shape of the port,” he says.
Here, Bracewell concurs. “We will have to look very closely at the government’s recommendations on planning applications and how they need to address a complex range of transport and environmental issues. They will set the pattern for the foreseeable future.”