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

Memorandum by the British Section of the International Navigation Association (PIANC) (P 34)



  PIANC is a non-political, non-aligned organisation which draws upon the very extensive experience of its members in the development, maintenance and operation of waterways and ports and in the effects of the implementation of policies of different national governments and regulatory authorities. The Maritime Board of the Institution of Civil Engineers looks to PIANC for the formulation of advice on waterborne transport issues.


  The following comments have been put forward by members of PIANC's British National Committee.

(i)  Contribution of major ports to the economy of the United Kingdom

  About 95 per cent of all freight by tonnage enters and leaves the country by sea, by definition passing through ports which therefore form a key element of the UK's transport infrastructure. Ports also represent an employment base for some 25,000 people directly with a very large number of indirect jobs depending on these.

(ii)  Current problems and opportunities (co-operation, safety, the environment and regulation)

  Co-operation with other ports—The UK Port industry is diverse in the structure of its components, both commercially and constitutionally, with a variety of types of public and private sector organisations.

  It is unique in Europe in being generally independent of Government, giving it flexibility in response to its market. It is far closer to the "user pays" concept than any other nation's ports and, as such, is a model for the EU.

  The industry is competitive with many different groups and individual ports represented. Co-operation between ports is therefore limited although co-ordination at regional level for cost saving is perfectly feasible and port rationalisation by the Regional Development Agencies should be encouraged.

  Opportunities exist for coastal ro-ro as one answer to road and rail congestion in freight movement. Such solutions are environmentally friendly and sustainable. They could be encouraged by extension of the Freight Facilities Grant to ports and shipping lines and by the achievement of greater balance and perspective in the regional planning system.

  Safety—The Port Marine Safety Code has been well received in the industry, having been developed in co-operation with the ports. It deals well with navigational safety and organisational accountability. Reviews such as the Trust Ports Review have also defined the lines of responsibility for matters such as safety much more clearly.

  One problem arising in the area of operational safety is the shortage of pilot recruits due to the decline of the British Flag fleet. Onshore, a main safety concern remains the competence of contractors' labour, now increasingly employed in the fragmented ports industry.

  Environment—New responsibilities are being assigned to ports (eg for waste management, environmental liability and coastal management). The Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) designations are spreading with sometimes inadequate scientific discussion.

  Modern Ports: A UK Policy recognises that in certain circumstances an overriding public interest may allow a development which will have an adverse environmental effect on designated sites (2.4.19). In such circumstances developers are properly required to take all reasonable steps to mitigate the effects. However, the definition of "reasonable" varies widely, and the costs and benefits of mitigation should be evaluated on a logical basis, and not as a ransom payable to allow a development project to proceed.

  This is especially important given the strong lobbying power and resources of some of the "green" organisations.

  Regulation—There seem to be few problems here and the recent use of Codes of Practice by DETR (eg Port Marine Safety Code) is welcomed by the industry as an optimal approach.

(iii)  Modern Ports: A UK Policy

  The document has been generally well received by the ports industry which sees it as Government acceptance that the industry is market-led. It is noted that information and data will be required by Government and there is concern as to where this might lead.

  The document rightly rules out transport policy formulation by greater regulation. The comment that "it is not Government's job to run the ports industry is welcome".

  EU (1.1.6)—UK Government should make further efforts to ensure port competition on level terms with other EU countries. The fact that most EU ports are subsidised by public funding in operational and development areas is contrary to the "user pays" principle espoused by the EC. (See also comments under iv—Other policies of benefit to ports).

  New uses for surplus port sites (2.4.4)—Where a port has surplus capacity, alternative developments of sites should allow for future development of coastal shipping or even inland shipping. Yesterday's deep-water berths might well be tomorrow's coastal terminals.

  A new approach to appraisal (2.4.13)—The document refers to a process christened "A new approach to appraisal" which hints that Government approvals for port development might start to take in a review of what facilities may be available in other ports. This would be resisted by independent ports since they are in competition with each other.

  Access to ports other than by road (2.4.18)—The points raised in Modern Ports concerning improvement of access to ports by means other than road transport must be welcomed with its implication of rail or canal, river and estuary development. However, there is some concern that any action in this direction is likely to be highly selective and a long time coming.

  Municipal ports (3.1.12)—The proposals aimed at municipal ports (3.1.12) seem logical. This is a sector causing commercial imbalance in some English regions and overdue for reform.

(v)  Other policies of benefit to ports

  Regulations—It would be helpful if DETR could co-ordinate the requirements of all Government Regulations of concern to ports (eg Habitats Directive related legislation, Food and Environment Protection Act, Immigration and Asylum Bill) to ensure that they are applied in a way which takes account of the particular circumstances of this sector.

  Europe—The question of who pays for the infrastructure relating to the provision of access to ports, whether by road or by sea, has a major effect on future port developments. This is closely linked to the question of public subsidy in the European context as well as in the UK. Various European countries recognise the importance of thriving growth of ports as part of the transport infrastructure, to provide leverage for private sector investment to develop the wide variety of industries and services which benefit from being close to a modern port. There is a clear need for transparency regarding all public sector investment related to port developments. However, there is also a need for Government to recognise that provision of basic infrastructure (such as roads, railways, shipping channels and navigational aids) can be financed either by the public or private sectors, but in either case needs to be treated in the same way by all EU member states.

  There is much concern in the UK over the forthcoming European Access to Port Services Directive which could force the break-up of relatively small port organisations which offer comprehensive services. It is understood that the Directive could require ports to allow access to third party contractors for carrying out such functions as pilotage, stevedoring etc, on a competitive basis. This is more appropriate to the government financed Continental ports and should not be made to apply to self-financing UK ports.

Stephen Cork

Chairman, PIANC British Section

January 2001

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