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

Memorandum by the Local Government Association (P 06)



  1.  The Association welcomes the opportunity to submit comments to this inquiry. It is possible only to comment in general terms, given the nature of the questions asked and the tight deadline. The major ports, including the small number of municipally owned ports companies, will be members of long established port trade associations, which the Sub-Committee will no doubt also will have asked to submit comments directly on this occasion. The Association has not published any substantive policy document on the ports industry in the UK, and has not been lobbying actively on substantive ports policy issues from the local government perspective, from either an operational or environmental point of view. These comments do not include any references which reflect on the prospects of and problems caused by any specific major port development project which may have been brought to the attention of the Sub-Committee. The Sub-Committee will need to speak to local and regional interests about specific cases.


  2.  Major ports contribute significantly to the national and local economies, not only through direct employment in their cargo and passenger carrying activities, but also in port related manufacturing, processing, fishing, tourism, shipbuilding and other related industries. The Association is not currently in a position to estimate the contribution of ports to the economies of individual major conurbations but no doubt it is considerable and estimates will be available from other sources. For some of the longer established major ports, changes in trade and cargo patterns in recent decades have led to considerable areas of dereliction on former port estates, in some cases in the centre of urban areas. Many of these areas are being developed for more suitable alternative uses.


  Port activities are becoming subject to a wide range of regulatory and environmental restrictions, both health and safety regulation. The former has made access to active port property more difficult and may make port operations more isolated from the local communities. The potential for pollution from port activities and waste from discharges from shipping are issues in which local authorities have a particular interest. In recent decades the balance between the regeneration of port activities and potential environmental damage caused by large port or ancillary development projects has led to closer investigation of balances between these two factors. The principles behind the Government's integrated transport policy suggest that this balancing exercise is very important when local authorities are considering their input into port developments in their Local Transport Plans (LTPs), whether through the provision of, or negotiating of road access or wider planning considerations. The guidance for LTP preparation suggests that close discussions will take place between port owners, local authorities and rail network managers. Guidance to the Strategic Rail Authority must reflect this need. The nature of modern port trades is that they require a considerable amount of land. This has increased the demand for the use of "greenfield" sites, with potential negative environmental consequences, but potentially avoiding congestion and pollution which would result from the redevelopment of cramped existing city centre sites.

  4.  The lead in major port developments, in the UK at least, will come generally from the private sector, which operates most of the larger ports. The competition between major ports for employment and industrial development currently is not regulated at national level. This can lead to investment in duplicated and potentially under-used facilities, at the risk of the individual port operators. However, even in public sector controlled ports on the European mainland, competitive pressures appear to lead to similar, if not more expensive, investment decisions being taken.


  5.  The Association is seeking the views of member authorities on the contents of "Modern Ports: A UK Policy" and it is not possible to obtain and collate these in the very limited time allowed by this inquiry. Given that the ports industry is important to the UK economy, the publication of a ports policy document, and the earlier inland waterways and shipping documents, is welcomed in principle, as UK "transport" policy does tend to be based on a heavy emphasis on land-based motorised transport, even though coastal shipping once was a very major contributor to domestic freight movement.

  6.  The Government has not engaged the Association in discussions about its comments and proposals regarding municipally owned ports (section 3.1.14. of the document) and would expect substantive discussions before any decisions are taken. Municipally owned ports already face a disadvantage in their need to obtain public sector capital spending approval, and no policy must be put into place which further disadvantages them against the large multi-port operators which have grown up since the previous Government's series of port privatisation programmes. The larger municipal ports will be operating already under full commercial criteria.

  7.  The Association agrees that the issue of access to and from ports, including quaysides is important. Many ports have had their rail access reduced severely or removed altogether in the past decade. Investing in a reactivating rail access to a wide range of ports and ensuring that the loading gauge on these lines is fit for modern freight traffic requirements should continue to be a priority for the Government's ten year rail investment strategy. Currently disused rail land which may provide future rail access to ports must not be disposed of to meet short term income targets, either by Rail Property Ltd, Railtrack or port operators. The Association is pleased to note that the Government appears to be putting procedures into place which should preserve more of this land for future use than has been the case in recent decades. Pressures to reallocate limited water-side land to leisure, housing and retail use have been identified as a potential constraint on primary port developments, in large as well as small ports. A long term perspective needs to be taken by port operators and planning authorities when considering the use of currently vacant sites.

  8.  Road based access to and from ports can generate traffic movements over a very wide area and, for example, much of the congestion on the M25 is caused by freight and passenger traffic to and from the south and east coast ports.


  9.  There are a number of environmental and competition parallels between ports and airports and similar principles will need to be borne in mind when balanced environment and regeneration policies are being developed at national level.

January 2001

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