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

Memorandum by The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK (P 35)


1.  Structure of Evidence

  1.1  This memorandum comprises the following sections:

    —  Summary of evidence.

    —  The Joint Marine Programme of The Wildlife Trusts and WWF.

    —  Previous The Wildlife Trusts / WWF submissions on ports-related matters.

    —  Evidence of The Wildlife Trusts and WWF in the context of Modern Ports: A UK policy.

2.  Summary of evidence

  2.1  The Wildlife Trusts and WWF are grateful for this opportunity to submit evidence to the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on Opportunities and Development Prospects at Major Ports.

  2.2  We welcome much of the content of Modern Ports: A UK Policy, and have used this as the context for this evidence with addresses—principally—the second, third and fourth bullet points of the inquiries terms of reference, namely:

    —  What problems and opportunities currently face such ports, particularly with respect to co-operation with each other, safety, the environment and regulation;

    —  Whether the proposals contained in the Government's document Modern Ports: A UK Policy are adequate to address the difficulties and opportunities faced by such ports; and

    —  What other policies should be pursued to benefit such ports.

  2.3  The Wildlife Trusts and WWF acknowledge the need for a thriving ports industry in the UK. This must be set in the context of an integrated transport strategy, and must be environmentally sustainable. This includes the need to protect the environment.

  2.4  Some sectors of the ports industry, notably those concerned with containerised freight, are predicted to increase still further in importance, and many of the major operators have plans for expansion. Inevitably, many of these proposed developments are located within or adjacent to internationally important wildlife sites identified and/or designated under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and the Ramsar Convention. The EU Water Framework Directive came into force in December 2000 and must be transported into national legislation by December 2003. Among its main provisions are requirements that all waters in Member States achieve good ecological status by 2015 and that the quality of waters should not deteriorate. These requirements apply to waters living both within and outwith sensitive sites and to rivers, lakes, transitional (ie estuarine) and coastal waters. Although there is scope for derogation in certain circumstances, it is likely that strict conditions will apply and developers will have to demonstrate that any new development is of over-riding national interest if it has the potential to adversely affect the ecological quality of rivers, lakes, transitional or coastal waters. These provisions are likely to influence the location of new port developments as well as the expansion of, and intensification of activity within, existing ports.

  2.5  We welcome the recognition Modern Ports: A UK Policy gives to the need to take full account of the environmental impact of port development, and acknowledge that decision-making in this area is especially difficult. Both organisations understand that port development is likely to be proposed on protected areas and Government must be prepared to address the issues when they arise without compromising the UK's commitment to biodiversity conservation.

  2.6  We believe that at least two initiatives are necessary to assist in resolving some of the problems posed at certain stages of the decision-making process set out in the Habitats Directive. In suggesting these, we do not make any judgements on the merits of any current or future proposal, and readily acknowledge that other issues may benefit from review.

  2.7  The first initiative is to provide a national overview of economic need for new port capacity. This is essential to provide a context for assessing the merits of individual port proposals that may impact in particular on internationally important nature conservation sites or that may contribute to cumulative impact of coastal development in a given area. A national framework that facilitates a more objective assessment of alternative options and overriding public interest is critical to ensure the UK meets its sustainable development objectives.

  2.8  The second initiative should be to review current policy, regulation, guidance and practice in the coastal zone, with a view to seeking better integration. This will, in part, be covered by DETR's Review of Marine Nature Conservation, due to report in March. The recent proposal for a European Parliament and Council Recommendation concerning the implementation of integrated Coastal Zone Management also supports such an integrated approach at the national level. We do not underestimate the size of this task given that legislative change may be necessary. We welcome the recent announcement that there will be a joint MAFF/DETR Marine Consents Unit, and hope that this represents the first step towards more comprehensive integration of marine activities. One key aim should be to facilitate the identification and safeguarding of land, currently behind the sea wall, that could be used to mitigate the effects of sea level rise on intertidal habitats. Under the right circumstances, port developers could "buy into" these "land banks" in order to mitigate/compensate for the adverse impacts of port development on Natura 2000 or Ramsar sites.

  2.9  It follows that the UK's application of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and the Ramsar Convention, would need to be modified to take better account of the dynamic nature of coastal environment, the impact of planning proposals which may effect it, and to ensure that the ecological integrity of internationally important sites is maintained.

  2.10  We recognise that Harbour Authorities play a vital function in the management of the coastal zone, and that many are heavily involved in developing schemes of management for Natura 2000 sites with other competent and relevant authorities. Harbour Authorities have also played a key role in development and implementation of some of the non-statutory estuary management plans in the UK. Contrary to the position taken in Modern Ports: A UK Policy, we do believe there is a strong case for Harbour Authorities having duties and powers to further nature conservation objectives. It may be that the current harbours legislation is in fact a barrier to establishing this otherwise desirable objective, and a review may be necessary.

  2.11  Given the nature of port ownership in the UK we are concerned that there appears to a blurring of regulatory function and commercial interest. For example, in some cases, the Harbour Authority is the Port Operator and the same individual serves both bodies. If regulatory and commercial functions cannot be clearly separated voluntarily, Parliament should consider modifying the statutory position to create separate regulatory bodies. Modern Ports: A UK Policy highlights the need for port operators to be open and transparent, and to maintain good relationships with their local communities. We have no doubt that this is largely the case at present. Nevertheless we are aware of instances where the powers vested in Ports companies/Harbour Authorities give cause for concern where these appear to be exercised without full and proper consultation with all interested parties. We would ask the Committee to consider whether a clearer distinction needs to be made between regulatory functions and the exercise of those powers and duties, and the commercial interest of port operators.

3.  The Joint Marine Programme of The Wildlife Trusts and WWF

  3.1  The Wildlife Trusts are a national network of 46 local trusts with 2,000 nature reserves and a membership exceeding 310,000 people. The Trusts advocate the conservation of biodiversity and environmental standards at a local and national level for both people and wildlife. WWF—the global environment network—takes action to conserve endangered species, protect endangered spaces and address global threats to nature by seeking long term solutions with people in government, industry, education and civil society. WWF-UK has a membership of approximately 250,000 in the UK, and is one of 27 similar national organisations around the world, with a total of some five million supporters. The Wildlife Trusts and WWF are now working together in areas of common concern in the marine and coastal environment under a Joint Marine Programme.

  3.2  A critical part of our work involves lobbying for the designation, protection and appropriate management of protected areas. In the UK, WWF focuses in particular on those sites of national and international importance notified under national legislation or designated under EU Directives and other international conventions.

  3.3  In seeking to reduce society's footprint on protected areas and the wider environment (and in particular the impacts of climate change), the transport sector is crucially important. We recognise that long-term, integrated and sustainable solutions must be sought and that the ports and shipping industry has an important role to play in delivering these objectives. WWF is keen to engage in this debate with the wide range of players noted above.

  3.4  The Wildlife Trusts and WWF established their Joint Marine Programme in 1988. Its vision is "to ensure the conservation of marine wildlife and healthy seas." Its principal objectives are to:

    —  maximise marine conservation effort at international, European, national regional and local levels and the interrelationships between them;

    —  develop policies and strategies to influence decision-makers and users;

    —  raise awareness of, and support for, marine wildlife;

    —  facilitate education about the marine environment and

    —  develop, promote and support and manage community participation in the marine environment.

4.  Previous The Wildlife Trusts and WWF submissions on ports-related matters

  4.1  In May 1999, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK responded to the Ports Policy Paper: Draft Outline, issued by DETR. Both organisations registered their broad support for the Government's outline ports policies which at that time included:

    —  promotion of UK and Regional competitiveness by encouraging reliable and efficient distribution and access to markets;

    —  enhanced environmental and operational performance by encouraging the provision of multi-modal access to markets;

    —  making the best use of existing infrastructure, in preference to expansion wherever practicable;

    —  promotion of the best environmental standards in the design and operation of ports, including where new development is justified.

  4.2  We can send you a copy of that response if required.

  4.3  The Wildlife Trusts and WWF note that most, if not all of these issues are acknowledged in Modern Ports: A UK Policy, but we are not wholly convinced that the debate has moved on significantly beyond identification of the issues. This is all the more pressing given the context provided by, amongst other things, devolution to national administrations, the UK Government's obligations under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and the understandable desire for expansion by major port operators in the UK.

  4.4  We are conscious that this situation creates a sense of uncertainty for many of the players in this field, not least the ports operators themselves. From a nature conservation perspective, we now see a series of major port expansion proposals at various stages of development, all of which it appears, will be judged in isolation, despite the potential for significant impacts on the UK's coastal biodiversity. A clear framework for assessing port need is required for the UK, so that these proposals are not judged in isolation.

5.  Evidence of WWF-UK and the Wildlife Trusts in the context of Modern Ports: A UK policy

  5.1  These comments follow the order of Modern Ports: A UK Policy, and use that document as the context for addressing—principally—the second, third and fourth bullet points of the Inquiries terms of reference (see paragraph 2.2).

  5.2  References to specific paragraphs in Modern Ports: A UK Policy are noted as appropriate.


  5.3  As has already been noted, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF acknowledge that the national economy needs a thriving ports industry, and we welcome the Government's initiative to set this in the context of an integrated transport strategy. As the Forward to Modern Ports: A UK Policy notes, this must be congruent with other major policy objectives. Environmentally sustainable development, however defined, is clearly one of these. We are pleased to note that this is recognised in paragraph 1.1.2 and acknowledge that many ports operators are striving to meet these ends.

  5.4  We welcome the recognition (paragraph 1.1.4) that "people are looking for a more open and accountable approach from those entrusted with legal duties and powers to run our ports", and note that paragraph 1.1.8 states that "each undertaking has statutory powers suited to its needs." Whilst we do not underestimate the range and complexity of powers and duties that ports are now obliged to discharge, there are circumstances where local communities, landowners and managers question some of the powers (such as compulsory purchase) now vested in commercial companies. Under such circumstances, these powers may appear to run counter to the interests of the local communities and natural justice. We are currently aware of at least one case where a company is seeking to use compulsory purchase powers on land containing a Wildlife Trust nature reserve. Clear accountability is essential as paragraph 3.1.4 notes.

  5.5  The Wildlife Trusts and WWF accept that the development of individual ports will reflect a variety of local, national and indeed international factors, but as paragraph 1.1.10 notes, "the need for an integrated transport policy has been neglected in the last twenty years". We would agree but stress that any such policy must be approached on a UK-wide basis, and have environmental sustainability at its core (paragraph 1.1.11). Whilst no-one would expect the Government to "run the ports industry" (paragraph 1.1.8), the framework within the industry works must operate and be seen to operate in an even-handed and transparent manner, and be responsive to UK and EU-wide obligations for the protection of the environment.

  5.6  It follows that both organisations support the recommended congruence between ports policy, national and regional planning policy guidance, Regional Development Strategies and local transport plans noted in paragraph 1.1.14.

  5.7  Similarly, welcome the commitment to ensure that ports promote "the best environmental practice" (paragraph 1.2.1). In particular we believe that it is critical that ports development policy does deliver a proper balance between economic need, best use or re-use of operational land and environmental sustainability (paragraphs 1.2.2, fourth bullet point and paragraph 1.2.3). We do not believe that this has been achieved to date.


  5.8  As noted above The Wildlife Trusts and WWF recognise the contribution that the ports industry makes to the national economy, and in particular, the increasing importance of container ports (paragraph 2.1.4). The growth in the size of ships and the ports facilities needed to handle them does raise particular problems where new or improved facilities impact on Natura 2000 sites identified and/or designated, and the species and habitats within these, under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, and Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention. We acknowledge the very considerable efforts many of the major ports operators have made to address these issues, but emphasise again the point made in our paragraph 5.4 above. That is that at present, whilst any one proposal for port expansion will be judged on its merits through the relevant statutory processes, there is currently no means of considering this against how a range of concurrent proposals may meet perceived or forecast national need.

  5.9  This is especially important given the possibility that proposals on or adjacent to Natura 2000 sites may need to pass the tests set out in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive. The assessments of "alternatives" and "overriding public interest" are likely to be especially difficult to resolve in isolation, and present serious challenge to all involved in these issues. Accepting that the Government is not going to run the ports industry, a clearer Government view on what may be necessary to meet forecast need would be helpful in assessing the contribution that could be made by any one proposal. This would not override any existing decision-making process, but simply help to inform it, perhaps from the earliest stages.

  5.10  It follows that we welcome the recognition Modern Ports: A UK policy gives to this issue in paragraphs 2.1.15 to 2.1.17. Given that port expansion is likely to happen at some sites, we would also stress that in addition to a clearer national view on economic need, a more holistic approach to coastal zone management is critical if the UK is going to meet its objectives for sustainable development. We would like to refer you to the new proposed European Parliament and Council Recommendation on the implementation of integrated Coastal Zone Management in Europe. The assessment of the impact if individual ports proposals on Natura 2000 and Ramsar sites, and the type, scale and design of any appropriate remedial measures, are at least as complex to resolve as are the economic questions. Clearly both issues are almost inextricably linked in the decision-making process set out in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive.

  5.11  Leaving aside for the moment our concerns on any national assessment of economic need for new facilities, we accept that there are likely to be circumstances where the economic justification for a particular port development may be very strong. In this situation it is likely that some level of impact on protected areas is inevitable, if approval is forthcoming. These matters are, of course, the subject of environmental and other assessments carries out by the applicants (paragraph 2.4.13), and subject to the relevant statutory processes before that decision is made (paragraph 2.4.19). There is an expanding body of case law which, depending on the view taken, sheds some light on how the issues raised by Article 6 of the Habitats Directive in particular can be, or should be addressed. Recent guidance from the European Commission assists in these matters. Within this broad, and to some degree even theoretical framework, we accept that individual cases need specific solutions.

  5.12  In broad terms, the issues raised by the impacts of major port development on protected coastal areas are the same as those under widespread discussion in the light of climate change and sea level rise. It is recognised that the UK has an international responsibility to protect and manage many of its coastal habitats. Many of these will be severely reduced or even eliminated in the face of sea level rise, with the south east of the UK being disproportionately affected. In addition, it is this region that is likely to provide significant new deepwater container port capacity.

  5.13  If the UK is to deliver on its commitments to maintain its coastal biodiversity, adapt to climate change and achieve environmentally sustainable development (paragraph 2.4.12), coastal zone planning has to take a more pro-active approach to the identification and safeguarding of land currently behind the sea wall. Subject to what may be a wide range of criteria (not least existing nature conservation value) this land could be used to offset habitiat losses due to sea level rise. We readily acknowledge that habitat losses due to sea level rise will far exceed those lost to port development. However, this "banking" approach may provide a means by which port developers can "buy into" resources which may assist in assembling habitat creation packages to offset the impacts of port development (paragraph 2. 4.22). However, this must not been seen as a way of achieving otherwise unacceptable and unsustainable development.

  5.14  We should stress quite unequivocally that we do not seek any revision of the Habitats Directive, but that national legislation and regulations, national and regional planning guidance will, in our view, need to be revised to give it (the Directive) full effect and assist in the resolution of these difficult issues (Section 2.5). In any event, the "need" arguments must be properly applied before any proposal is approved on or adjacent to internationally important wildlife sites.

  5.15  Consideration of these issues leads inevitably to the debate about port capacity, efficiency and the re-use of surplus port infrastructure noted in Section 2.4. We would particularly want to draw the Committee's attention to the debate surrounding the selling off of "redundant" port assets for property development, whilst "Greenfield" sites may be opened to port development. Ports that have been redeveloped for other uses may be re-used as ports. This needs to be considered as an alternative to development affecting SPA/SACs. It may be the case that port expansion could be accommodated more easily and sustainably, if developed land suitable for port development within ports was identified in Unitary Development Plans, local plans and regional planning guidance. We wholly support the need for enhanced monitoring of trends in the ports industry (paragraphs 2.4.10 and 2.4.11) to inform the "need" debate.

  5.16  Wider environmental measures are of course critical, and we support the work of the Harbour Authorities and other competent and relevant authorities in developing schemes of management for European sites (paragraph 2.5.23). Similarly we look forward to seeing the positive impact of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act on the management of SSSls (paragraph 2.5.24). We also welcome the proposed Government guidance for port operators on development control procedures (paragraph 3.2.9), but the procedures must still ensure that environment/biodiversity considerations are at the centre of decision-making. Any rationalisation or simplification of the consent and inquiry procedures (paragraph 3.2.8) for port developments must clearly reflect the importance of the environment and the obligations and procedures under the Habitats Directive, in particular.

  5.17  We are not convinced that simply because no Harbour Authority has taken on board additional environmental duties and powers that the situation is "broadly adequate" (paragraph 2.5.27). Indeed we have some concerns that the current Harbours legislation may make it difficult to attach these duties and powers, through for example, Harbour Revision Orders. Nevertheless we would welcome any positive proposals that the industry may put to the Government.

  5.18  Earlier paragraphs (2.4.23 and 2.4.24) consider the powers Harbour Authorities may have with respect to permitted development rights under the General Permitted Development Order 1995. We welcome the Government's decision to ensure that environmental assessment procedures are now taken into account in these matters. As noted earlier (our paragraph 6.4), we do have outstanding concerns that many Harbour Authorities, in addition to their statutory duties, are often so closely allied with commercial concerns that to the outside world it may be difficult to distinguish between the two very different roles. For example, there has been a case where the Harbour Authority undertook an Appropriate Assessment of the Port Operators development proposals. In some cases, the same officer serves both bodies. We would ask the Committee to consider whether there is merit in clearly separating the Authorities' regulatory role from any commercial interest.


  5.19  Modern Ports states that the ports industry must compete domestically and internationally on level terms (paragraphs 1.1.6 and 1.2) but at the same time it must deliver government sustainability policy (2.4.12 and elsewhere). There is a potential conflict in this that will need clear policy guidance.

  5.20  If a sustainable transport policy is to be developed then ports must be regarded like any part of the transport infrastructure. Development should only be supported if it is part of an integrated system that delivers the minimum deleterious impacts on environmental conservation. This would mean that, in effect, they should not be treated as separate businesses each able to demand infrastructure to meet their aspirations independent of the most sustainable transport infrastructure on a regional or national basis any more than should the different bus or rail companies. If they were to be fully treated as competing businesses then their demands for first class infrastructure to meet their ambitions to out-compete each other would have to be met.

  5.21  Paragraph 2.2.2 of Modern Ports is useful in stressing that "integrated transport policy recognises that government cannot treat any element of the transport network in isolation" and 1.1.10 in noting that". The need for an integrated transport policy has been neglected in the last twenty years, and the role of the ports in such as strategy has not been adequately considered. It is also clear that ports should not have the right to demand the infrastructure that they each want not least because a substantial element of the infrastructure will come from the public purse.

  5.22  If ports are to be treated as part of a sustainable transport system, it follows that, if there are potential environmental conflicts to port development, which there clearly are, then:

    —  The overall capacity needed from ports should be assessed such that this capacity is delivered (where it can be given the constraints) without the spare capacity that could develop if ports are treated as individual competing businesses. For many types of shipping this capacity will need to be assessed on a regional basis (eg in the South East and Anglian areas combined ports will generally not be competing with those in other regions).

    —  Ports on a regional basis should not be able to expand if this would conflict with environmental constraints unless the industry overall is operating at a high level of efficiency on its existing land. It should not be enough for a port wanting to expand to demonstrate that it is currently efficient, this should be assessed overall for ports as part of a sustainable transport system.

    —  The land-side infrastructure of roads and rail should be delivered to match the most sustainable pattern, without over-capacity as above.

  5.23  The main primary element of ports that deliver sustainable transport is reducing transport of goods by less energy efficient means (principally roads) both by moving goods by sea and once they reach port, by the most sustainable mode. National ports strategy should therefore include the promotion of goods reaching the port nearest to the point of final delivery or pick up from near the point of manufacture, not transporting them across the country, and this should be included in assessments of infrastructure requirements.

  5.24  Clear policies need to be set nationally to help to avoid policy tension and avoid situations where casework may form policy. If the principle is accepted that ports are primarily to be regarded in policy terms like any other element in the sustainable transport system to deliver government sustainability policy then one way of helping this would be by co-operation between ports, and we feel that clear policies would help to promote such co-operation.

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