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

Memorandum by Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council (P 21)



  1.1  The Council's interest in and experience of major port development stems from the fact that the main operational area of the Port of Liverpool, including the Royal Seaforth Container Terminal, lies within the Borough.

  1.2  Over the past decade the Port has undergone a period of rapid growth in trade, profitability and physical development. There have undoubtedly been local economic development and employment benefits arising from this. However, there is currently a very strong perception in the communities adjacent to the Port, shared by the Council Members representing these areas, that these benefits have been outweighed by the adverse environmental impact of Port-related activity.

  1.3  These adverse impacts relate in particular to:

    —  The noise, air pollution and safety impacts of the large volumes of HGV movements generated on the major road corridors through Bootle to the national motorway network. All these corridors pass through residential areas experiencing other forms of social and economic stress associated with inner urban areas.

    —  The environmental pollution arising from port activity and related industries, especially as a result of the recent growth of open storage of coal and scrap metal and major food processing operations. This impacts particularly on the residential neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to the Port estate in the form of noise, dust, smells and visual intrusion.

    —  The actual and potential threat to coastal and estuarine habitats arising from Port operations. National and international designations cover much of the Mersey Estuary, and a proposed SSSI lies within the operational Port estate at Seaforth. The protection of this site from Port development proposals was a significant issue in the preparation of Sefton's UDP and was eventually secured to the year 2000 through a Parliamentary Undertaking by MDHC.

  1.4  This perception of the balance between the benefits and disbenefits of recent Port development has been strongly influenced by the sharp decline in the traditional dock employment that once provided jobs for many residents in the adjacent communities. These communities experience some of the highest unemployment rates in Merseyside. A recent long and bitter industrial dispute has only served to polarise local sentiments.

  1.5  This combination of circumstances has coloured the Council's recent relationships with the Port authority, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC). As indicated below, the Council has been willing to support major development initiatives that will assist the Port's contribution to regional and local economic development. But it has not been re-assured by the Company's approach to consultation and mitigation that it fully recognises the impact of its operations on local communities.

  1.6  On a positive note there is an increasing number of examples of effective joint working between the Council and MDHC on environmental management, transport policy, regeneration projects, development planning and relations with the EU and regional agencies. Reference is made to some of these in following paragraphs. The current collaboration on the European Objective 1 programme promises to be particularly productive.

  1.7  The Council responded to the DETR invitation to comment on the Outline Ports Policy paper in March 1999. Many of the comments submitted then remain pertinent to the present Inquiry, and the Council's response is appended to this Memorandum.[19]


  2.1  The role of the Port of Liverpool as a regional economic asset is recognised in the Regional Strategy of the NWDA and in the draft Regional Planning Guidance for the North West.

  2.2  The Port's significance in the local Merseyside and Sefton economy has been measured by a number of studies. For example:

    —  A study in 1996 by the University of Liverpool, Department of Economics, concluded that the trading activities of MDHC were associated with between 36,000 and 86,000 jobs in the Merseyside economy. Of these, up to 15,000 jobs were classed as directly dependent.

    —  A study recently completed to support regeneration proposals for the Objective 1 programme concludes that there is a cluster of some 200 businesses in the Bootle/North Liverpool area which are directly or indirectly port related, and which employ 3,000 to 3,500 people.

  2.3  An important theme in Merseyside's Objective 1 Single Programming Document (SPD) for 2000-06 is to capitalise on this asset to secure physical and economic regeneration and environmental improvement. The Port hinterland is defined in the SPD as one of the Strategic Spatial Development Areas (SSDA) which will act as major drivers for economic development and employment growth in the sub-region.

  2.4  There is hard evidence on the ground that the buoyant Port business can spin-off further development and employment growth. For example, in 1995 Sefton Council, in partnership with MDHC and with City Challenge and Objective 1 funding, approved a major expansion of the existing Freeport Zone. This included a phased programme for the development of over 72,000 square metres of new warehousing. While the expectation was that this would meet port-related needs for 10 years, two-thirds of the warehousing was built and occupied within four years of development commencing.

  2.5  The further opportunities arising from the Port's dominant position in the rapidly growing Irish Sea ferry trade is highlighted in Modern Ports—A UK Policy (Case Study 6, Annex 2).

  2.6  It follows from the introductory comments above, that a high priority in the future SSDA regeneration programme will be measures to ensure that new employment is accessible to local residents in the adjacent urban priority areas. This will be achieved through targeted training programmes developed in partnership with business, training agencies and community organisations. Targeted public transport measures will improve physical accessibility.

  2.7  One particularly interesting aspect of these initiatives is the development of the concept of a "cluster" of Port-related businesses. The essence of a cluster is that the value of the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. The cluster is characterised by horizontal competition and vertical co-operation. Competition is essential to maintain the efficiency of the cluster against competing clusters. Co-operation is essential to gain synergy between firms. The cluster idea is increasingly being embraced as a tool for economic development (Planning for Clusters, DETR, June 2000). The port-related cluster of 200 firms in Sefton is a sub-set of a Merseyside cluster related to the five other dock areas in the sub-region—including Birkenhead (MDHC). Tranmere Oil Terminal (MDHC), Garston (ABP), Eastham/Manchester Ship Canal (Peel Holdings) and the Cammell Laird shipyard.

  2.8  The realisation of this sub-regional potential—under the proposed title of "MerseyPort" will require co-operation between a number of interests including three port operators. Whilst it is not yet clear how far this initiative will progress it may be of interest in view of the specific reference to co-operation between ports in the terms of reference of this Inquiry.

  2.9  This wider economic role of ports is not mentioned in Modern Ports—A UK Policy. Apart from its economic and physical developmental aspects, it raises issues relevant to port management and external relations and to employment and training. The coverage of the latter is particularly narrowly focussed on dock work, whereas a modern port and it related cluster of businesses generates a much wider range of employment opportunities and skill needs. Port operators and government agencies need to be aware of and plan for this potential.


  3.1  There are a number of helpful general comments and proposals in Modern Ports—A UK Policy. However, the Council would wish to see some more specific measures emerging along the lines set out in its March 1999 response (see Annex paragraph 5a-k).[20] The Council wishes to add to and reinforce these comments as follows.

Environmental management and safety

  3.2  In paragraphs 5(d)-(h) of its March 1999 response, the Council made specific recommendations for the strengthening of existing pollution control and public safety regulations. These address specific port-related problems that arise from the location of a wide variety of open storage, processing and manufacturing activities within the dock estate, particularly involving food products, coal and scrap metal.

  3.3  The Council wishes to stress its belief that an IPPC approach to regulating the combined effects of various dock estate tenants, under a single Authorisation Regime issued to the Dock Company, would assist all parties. This would set estate boundary noise and pollution levels within which the estate landlord could regulate its tenants by way of tenancy conditions supported by an environmental management system. Such an approach would ensure consistent regulatory control at all major ports. It could help set acceptable environmental criteria to justify the relocation of residents as part of community-led regeneration initiatives.

  3.4  In recent major development proposals MDHC has been prepared to enter into agreements recognising the need for environmental management of the impact of Port activities. These have been in relation to specific proposals. The general relevance of standard environmental management accreditation procedures (EMAS, for example) would be worth exploring, and could be a requirement of the Port Authority itself in relation to firms operating within the dock Estate. The Council would therefore support the ideas set out in 2.5.14 of Modern Ports.

  3.5  The Council notes the initiatives by the Health and Safety Commission referred to in paragraphs 4.1.11 and 4.1.20 and would welcome any proposals which would be likely to improve the safety of residents living close to the Port. The important criterion is that regulatory measures should address the port estate as an integrated operation rather than a number of separate businesses.

Planning and other regulatory controls over development

  3.6  Paragraph 2.4.24 of Modern Ports suggests that local planning authorities "believe that the existing system of permitted development rights is broadly satisfactory". Later paragraphs under the heading "Better Regulation" refer to the powers devolved by Parliament to harbour authorities, and the obligation that these should be used "openly and accountably".

  3.7  It has to be said that these statements do not adequately reflect Sefton Council's recent experience in its dealings with the MDHC. Inadequate consultation with the community has been one of the most divisive issues in this Council's recent relationships with the Company. This is dealt with further below.

  3.8  From the Council's perspective as planning authority, the present system of permitted development rights is far from satisfactory. From the way these rights have been exercised the perception is that the GDO gives the Company the right to implement development with little or no consultation. On those occasions where consultation has taken place, there is little evidence that representations from the Council or the local community have been welcomed by the Company. It has required intense local pressure to secure change.

  3.9  The view of the local community and their elected representatives is, therefore, that the Company exercises its planning rights in its own interests alone. Based on this experience, the Council believes that there must be an element of compulsion in the duty to consult, either on individual proposals or on a forward plan or programme of action.

  3.10  Harbour Revision Orders can encompass significant change with substantial environmental consequences. Any proposals for simplifying the regulatory regime must redress the balance between the rights of the Harbour authority and those of the local communities on whom they impact. Consideration should be given to the Human Rights aspects of the current permitted development and harbour revision order regimes.

Protection of Natural Heritage

  3.11  Port authorities are regarded as "relevant authorities" for the purposes of The Habitats Regulations and therefore will have direct responsibilities for securing compliance with the Habitats Directive, including co-operation in the drawing-up of schemes of management for sites within or adjacent to their jurisdiction. In the case of MDHC this includes the Mersey Estuary European Marine Site as well as the Alt and Ribble Estuary European Marine site. Other Mersey Ports (eg ABP) will have similar responsibilities, and have very recently been circulated with a package of information from English Nature detailing their roles.

  3.12  The implications of the Habitats Directive for Ports have been explored in detail by Graham Rabbits of ABP. While some aspects of his work remain controversial, his overall approach is commended as a way forward for discussion among those agencies involved in developing schemes of management for European sites close to operational ports. It would help considerably if port authorities with responsibilities for the same site (as in the case of the Mersey) could adopt a uniform approach, and take note of the work undertaken by ABP. Modern Ports (paragraphs 2.5.12-14) does not deal adequately with this important role of Port Authorities. It is mentioned only in passing in 2.5.23. It is essential Ports recognise their role and co-operate with other agencies in carrying out the requirements of the Directive.

  3.13  The Directive will impact on the Ports' own development proposals, and should be mentioned in section 3.2.8 of "Modern Ports". The ABP work on this is highly relevant. It is also important that Government clarify for Port Authorities the full implications of the Habitats Directive with regard to offshore responsibilities.

  3.14  The Council has observed with interest the relationship between MDHC and Lancashire Wildlife Trust in the management of a nature reserve within the Dock ESTATE (THE Seaforth Reserve). The reserve has recently been notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by English Nature. Although the future of the reserve has been highly insecure due to the long-term development proposals of the Company, the support of LWT by the Company should be regarded as an example of best practice.

Coastal Zone Management

  3.15  This Council has a long-established Coast Management Scheme. The partnership under which the scheme works is currently under review and the Council would welcome the involvement and co-operation of MDHC because of its importance for the management and the economy of the coast.

  3.16  The council also participates in the Mersey Strategy and would stress that more active involvement of the Port Authorities in the Strategy would be of considerable benefit. Co-operation in coast and estuary management initiatives would help Ports carry out their duties under the Habitats Directive noted above, for example. The presence of Ports as active partners would add weight to the Strategy and would help raise awareness of the economic role of the Ports and the estuary on which they are situated. In this respect the Council would strongly endorse the statement under this heading in Modern Ports (paragraphs 2.5.25-28).

  3.17  It should be noted that the Mersey Strategy is currently co-operating with French, Dutch and Irish port cities in an Interreg IIc project reviewing environmental issues raised by the presence of major ports in coastal cities. It is likely a short submission will be made to the Inquiry by the Mersey Strategy.

Oil Pollution response

  3.18  The Mersey Ports have worked with local oil companies in developing a local contingency plan for dealing with pollution incidents. From this Council's perspective, while it is indeed important to have national plans in place to deal with major incidents, there is equally a need for effective local contingency plans to cope with the continuing large number of minor incidents. Many of these "local" incidents are in fact large enough to affect local beaches and the local tourism economy. It is also essential that these plans take into account the correct practices for remediating oil spills in areas of high nature conservation vale. Section 4.5 of Modern Ports does not stress sufficiently the need for the co-operation of a number of agencies in dealing with a local incident in a large estuary, and the need for effective local contingency plans to be developed jointly.

Port Waste and Marine Pollution

  3.19  The effect of marine litter on the Sefton and Merseyside coastline is significant, and puts a large burden of cost on the Council to maintain its popular beaches in reasonable condition. The effectiveness of the Ports' waste reception arrangements are therefore of great concern. The Council accepts however that this is only part of the equation, and that further action needs to be taken under the MARPOL Convention. The council would strongly support the identification of the Eastern Irish Sea as an area of special control under this convention. The implications of such designations are not dealt with in Section 4.6 of Modern Ports. The Council would strongly support the work of the Marine Pollution Advisory Group in its view that UK waters should be declared a special area in terms of marine environmental risks.

Transport access

  3.20  The Port of Liverpool has a direct rail connection via the Bootle freight line from the Seaforth inter-modal terminal to the West Coast Main Line at Edge Hill, Liverpool. The MDHC have taken a positive approach to the movement of freight by rail, and some two million tonnes is now carried by rail to UK and European destinations. This includes significant volumes of coal.

  3.21  This rail traffic could be significantly increased by integrated land use and transportation planning. Following a Merseyside-wide Freight Study, proposals to encourage the greatest possible shift from road to rail are included in the Merseyside Local Transport Plan and in our emerging regeneration plans and Unitary Development Plan reviews. However, the success of these measures is ultimately dependent on the success of Government policy to promote and invest in rail freight.

  3.22  As a member of the Piggyback Consortium and its successor, the Rail Freight Group, the Council has lobbied for the enhancement of the freight railway gauge to encourage more long-haul traffic onto rail through "piggyback" (the W11 gauge) or at least to capture the growing number of high cube 9'6" containers (the W10 gauge). We have costed the gauge enhancement and track renewal work required in Merseyside and are promoting this through the Objective 1 programme and through the Strategic Rail Authority.

  3.23  The Council is, therefore, generally happy with the content of Section 2.6 of Modern Ports in this respect. The Government's commitment in Transport 2010: The Ten Year Plan, and the role of the SRA in delivering this, represents a significant advance on the previous Railtrack Network Management Statements. We are particularly encouraged by the priority the SRA is attaching to upgrading Port rail connections, and would welcome an early commitment to the proposals outlined above when it publishes its long-awaited Freight Strategy.

  3.24  However, the full environmental benefits of rail freight for port communities will only be realised if the operating companies also invest in new locomotives and rolling stock which produce less noise and fumes.

  3.25  It is accepted that the railways will generally only be competitive with road haulage over long distances (generally over 200km). The Council recognises that a sustainable transport strategy for a growing port must include investment in the strategic highway network. This must address not just the congestion issues referred to in paragraph 2.6.16 of Modern Ports but also the environmental impact of HGV traffic on the local community. For example, plans to improve strategic road access to the port must take into account the fact that the two main routes pass through residential communities and close to numerous primary and secondary schools. The evidence of a possible link between high levels of child respiratory illness and road traffic in these communities is a further cause of concern. Solutions to both the congestion and environmental problems will not come cheaply: they will involve major capital investment and innovative traffic management. Most importantly, they will require an effective partnership involving the Council and local community, the Highways Agency, the road haulage industry and the MDHC.

The Port and the Community

  3.26  It is appropriate that the Council's evidence should conclude on this most important subject. Paragraph 3.1.2 of Modern Ports says that, "ports should add value to their communities and to the wider economy". The Council endorses that statement.

  3.27  In paragraph 3.1.5 it goes on to say that, "shareholders increasingly look not only at financial performance but also at companies' relationships with local communities and the environmental impact of their operations". It will be clear from earlier comments that, in the Council's experience, this interest has not always been evident in the MDHC's past approach to major development proposals. Ports are businesses operating in a highly competitive environment. From the community perspective, the overriding concern is to maximise throughput and activity and minimise costs.

  3.28  Whilst the Council is interested in the initiative proposed by the Government, in paragraph 3.1.5, to develop good practice guidance and standards for accountability, it is sceptical that an entirely voluntary code will suffice. However, the Council would welcome the opportunity to contribute. The joint groups referred to should include elected representatives from local government. It is not clear where community relations and environmental awareness would lie within the four areas of interest identified.

  3.29  In paragraph 5(i) of its March 1999 response the Council referred to the need locally for improved liaison between the regulatory bodies, the Port and its neighbours, including the local community.

  3.30  Despite the concerns expressed in this evidence, the Council agrees with the comments in paragraph 3.1.6, and in particular that "there is scope for a new productive relationship between ports and their local authorities". For example, the Council's recent experience is that the MDHC's active involvement in regeneration partnerships can be very productive. The Company is currently represented at Board Director level on the Steering Group that is preparing the Objective 1 SSDA strategy referred to above. The Council is hopeful, therefore, that with the Company's co-operation it will be possible to build on these positive developments to ensure that mutual understanding and openness become the norm in all aspects of the relationship.

January 2001

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