Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 550 - 559)




  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 ports?
  (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?
  (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.

Mr Bennett

  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.

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