Examination of Witnesses (Questions 550
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
550. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you for
joining us this afternoon. I hope you know the rules of engagement.
If you agree with one another, perhaps you would be kind enough
not to repeat it. If you do not agree with one another, we need
some indication. Would you be kind enough to identify yourselves?
(Dr Brown) I am Dr Andrew Brown. I am the Director
of Operations at English Nature.
(Mr Morris) I am Roger Morris. I am the Head of Estuaries
Conservation at English Nature.
(Dr Avery) I am Mark Avery. I am director of conservation
of the RSPB.
(Dr Huggett) I am Duncan Huggett, senior policy officer
at the RSPB.
551. Do either of you have any general remarks
you would like to make first?
(Dr Brown) No, thank you.
(Dr Avery) No, thank you.
552. In which case, can I ask both of you what,
from your perspectives, are the major challenges facing major
(Dr Avery) The challenges facing ports are somewhat
similar to those facing many other industries, to take their work
forward in a sustainable way, having the least ecological effect
on the environment. The RSPB is in no way anti-port. We think
there is an important contribution that ports can make to British
transport policy over the next few decades that potentially will
lead to means of development and transport which have a lower
input on the environment, through lower fossil fuel production
than alternatives. We see that as a challenge, but many of the
challenges were set out in the document Modern Ports and UK
Policy: to make the most of existing sites, to make the most
of efficiency savings at those sites and to make any future developments
as ecologically friendly as possible.
553. You rather seem to think that they have
failed to provide a strategic planning framework?
(Dr Avery) Yes, I think that is right. We would like
to see much more thinking and discussion about the role of ports
in an integral transport policy, more joined up thinking.
554. In what way is that a failure? What bits
were missed out?
(Dr Avery) The document has looked at ports in isolation
and not the types of infrastructure which need to go along with
ports to create the whole infrastructure needed to import and
move goods about.
555. In what manner?
(Dr Avery) We need to look at the types of road and
rail links needed to service ports, but also to compare ports
as a way of moving goods around in comparison with alternatives.
That is a truly strategic way of looking at transport.
556. To what extent is it appropriate for the
government to interfere in the activities of privately owned companies?
(Dr Avery) We would like to see the government taking
a lead, setting out some of the issues and giving guidance. There
will be public investment in ports and in the infrastructure that
will be needed to support them and those are things that the government
ought to be wrestling with in an integrated transport policy.
557. I take it that you agree with most of this,
(Dr Brown) Certainly. From our perspective, we think
the ports industry is undergoing a major period of change because
of all the changes in shipping. They are operating in a highly
competitive market and they are clearly seeking to develop port
facilities, including expansion. That is bringing them into a
potential conflict with environmental interests because so many
ports are either within or up against internationally important
sites. The major challenge that faces the ports from an environmental
perspective is to pursue their operations and developments in
an environmentally sustainable manner, within the framework established
by government policy and the regulatory framework.
558. Surely one of the biggest threats to the
environment and all wildlife is the problem of global warming
in this country. Does it not make sense, if we are trying to reduce
emissions, that far more goods are moved by water than any other
form? To encourage port developments across the North Sea particularly
could have a major impact in reducing emissions and global warming.
Does it not make sense? Therefore, is it not a good idea to be
expanding our ports, even if to do so means that we lose small
amounts of existing good habitat for birds and other wildlife?
(Dr Brown) We would certainly agree that the ports
should play a full part in contributing to an integrated transport
solution which overall reduces environmental impact. We think
short sea shipping can make a major contribution in that way,
so yes, we are very positive and supportive about the ports playing
their part. The trick that we have to find is how to pursue port
development in a way which is environmentally sympathetic and
minimises the impact as far as possible.
(Dr Avery) Your question is absolutely right. It gets
to the heart of what we suggest is the strategic approach that
is needed. Your question really is a good summary of what a strategic,
environmental assessment of ports and other transport options
would look like. You may well have come to the right answer in
saying that ports have a big part to play, but we have not seen
that type of strategic analysis done by government so far.
559. What effect has the privatisation of ports
had? Are they more sympathetic towards your needs or less?
(Dr Huggett) Ports privatisation has had a significant
impact on the ports industry. The most important effect with respect
to our interests is that it makes ports more efficient. More efficient
ports make better use of their existing facilities. There are
strong pressures to avoid expensive expansion when it is not necessary.
Port privatisation has had and continues to have a beneficial
effect in terms of the environment.