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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



Mr Bennett

  640. The RSPB in their earlier evidence, which I think you heard, were implying that if you actually brought your equipment and handling up to date you might be able to do it with the existing space rather than having to take more habitat that the birds might want.
  (Mr Gray) We have some of the most modern equipment in the world. We have the latest generation of cranes.


  641. Cranes or gantries?
  (Mr Gray) We have quayside gantry cranes and we have rubber tyred gantries in the port.
  (Mr Mordaunt) We are a deep water port. We are as deep as the ports Mr Gray has been talking about. Bristol is the cheapest deep water expansion in the United Kingdom. We have 18 metres, which is enormous, within two miles of our current dock. With far less dredging than most other ports, Bristol could be expanded.

Mr Donohoe

  642. Hunterstone does not need any dredging at all, does it?
  (Mr Mordaunt) It is a long way from the market, but you are absolutely right.
  (Mr Jones) We have a requirement for further development of roll-on/roll-off facilities on the Mersey in particular in order to service the growing Irish Sea traffic. Those requirements are being substantially met by redevelopment of brown field sites within the port area, because clearly the port of Liverpool has a long history and there are some areas of land that were used in previous times that have ceased to be used in recent times. We do not have the same pressure of land requirement. We do have a container facility in Liverpool which is on a much smaller scale than Felixstowe or Southampton but is still reasonably substantial. We serve a much smaller market in the north west as opposed to the south east. I would take issue with some of the points that were made by the RSPB representative. All the container ports in the United Kingdom have been investing substantially in improving handling equipment and management systems in order to make sure that we were making the most effective use of the land resources available to us. It should also be borne in mind that we do not have full control over the periods of time that pieces of equipment, containers, stay on the quay in our ports. That clearly depends on how quickly the end customer wants to receive the goods.

Mr Bennett

  643. You can charge him.
  (Mr Jones) You can but that will flow through to consumer prices in due course. It will inevitably add to the inefficiency of the overall transport chain because if a box has to move from the port to an inland storage area before it goes to the end customer it involves additional handling at an additional cost.


  644. Presumably you are capable of doing the economic balancing act that says it is not in our interest to use up large areas of land with containers that are not going to be moved for some period of time.
  (Mr Jones) Indeed. We do all impose quay rents but they are levels of rent that are acceptable to customers.

  Mr Bennett: The example the RSPB gave of this mythical port somewhere in the world—I do not know where it is—that does reach much higher standards. Does it actually reach much higher standards?


  645. Do you know?
  (Mr Gray) The port Dr Huggett referred to is in the Oman. It is actually owned and operated by a shipping line.

  646. Which one?
  (Mr Gray) Maersk Sealand.

Mr Donohoe

  647. What is the significance of the fact that it is owned and run by the shipping company?
  (Mr Gray) They can schedule the vessels perhaps more efficiently in order to meet the demands of the capacity on the berth. It is possible and does happen.


  648. Would they have total control over their own port?
  (Mr Gray) They have control over the operation.

  649. Is it a recently built and modernised port?
  (Mr Gray) It is fairly recently built and modernised. It is a new port. It is a new facility.

  650. With new equipment?
  (Mr Gray) Yes.

Mr Donohoe

  651. Do you think there are too many ports in the United Kingdom, too many small ports particularly, that should be closed?
  (Mr Gray) As I believe most of the ports in the United Kingdom are now privatised—there are some trust and municipal ports but they are run on a much more commercial basis now—it is a very much market led industry. I would assume that if those ports are able to survive then there is enough business to sustain the number of ports we already have.

  652. Do you believe there would be any advantage in shutting smaller ports down, decommissioning them?
  (Mr Gray) I cannot comment on that.

  653. Would you like to comment on it, as Bristol is one of the small ones?
  (Mr Mordaunt) We are not that small. There are some very little ports, nearly all trust ports, that probably do not have a future. There is no doubt that since privatisation the United Kingdom port industry has come back to its roots which are the main ports like Bristol, Liverpool, London and away from places that started to handle cargo because the big ports became very inefficient. That drift will continue. I think some of the small ports at the ends of peninsulas will have difficulty, but market forces will sort that out.

  654. Do you not think that with so many ports investment in these ports is less likely, given that shipping companies can move between ports? It is going to lead to a situation where prices are keener. Therefore, not allowing that investment is to the detriment of the United Kingdom PLC?
  (Mr Mordaunt) Say that again; I am sorry?


  655. If there is more competition between more ports and the smaller ones are not putting the money in, is this not in the long run to the detriment of our economy?
  (Mr Mordaunt) There is plenty of competition between the larger ports. It is highly competitive.

Mr Donohoe

  656. What impact has the current structure of the industry with the numerous competing ports have with an investment and landside communication links, such as roads and railways to ports?
  (Mr Mordaunt) What effect does it have?

  657. Yes. The fact is that if you went down to eight ports across the whole of the United Kingdom and there was an integrated transport policy at the back end of that which led to more railway links, that would be better for the movement of all goods, would it not?
  (Mr Jones) The issue of movement of goods by rail and road is not one that is entirely related to rail connections being available in ports. Most of the major ports, if not all, have reasonable rail links currently and are probably not making the maximum use of them. Those rail links are not being used to full capacity currently, but that is an issue between the relative economics of road transport and rail transport. The difficulty with rail transport is, notwithstanding that you can put a container onto a train in the port of Liverpool or the port of Felixstowe, once it goes inland, it has to go on a road vehicle eventually and there is a significant cost involved in that eventual road movement. The saving in moving a reasonable distance by rail and moving the same distance by road is not so great as to compensate for the additional cost of the eventual road movement following the rail movement, if you follow.

  658. Not really.
  (Mr Jones) You cannot move from port to factory—

  659. But you can have a siding outside the factory.
  (Mr Jones) Somebody would have to make a very substantial investment in rail infrastructure.

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