Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the UK Major Ports Group (L 22)

1. Summary The UK Major Ports Group welcomes the Localism Bill Committee’s invitation to submit views on the Bill. UKMPG supports the changes in the Bill as regards major infrastructure projects subject to some minor provisos.

2. Introduction UKMPG is one of two associations representing ports in the UK. Our 9 member groups handle over 70 percent of the UK’s international trade by volume, and therefore play a significant role in supporting the UK economy and promoting exports. UK ports are privately financed and do not seek any financial help from the taxpayer. Annual investment in upgrading and developing port facilities has been running at £200-300m per year and this will increase as several large development projects (which have already received planning approval) are taken forward.

3. In 2008 the independent consultants Oxford Economics carried out an assessment of the economic importance of ports as part of a wider review of the UK maritime sector. Their main conclusions based on 2007 data were that

- Ports directly employ over 130k people and support a further 230k jobs

- Ports directly contribute around £8bn to UK GDP and indirectly generate a further £10bn

- There are further unquantifiable benefits such as enabling other sectors such as fishing, marine aggregate dredging and offshore oil and gas to operate as well as supporting a number of industries based on or near port estates.

4. Analysis The section of the Bill on the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (clause 108) is of particular interest to UKMPG. In the past, planning delays have been a major issue for the ports sector. The complexity of the planning process and the length of time it has taken the Government to reach decisions on port development proposals have added significantly to costs and caused uncertainty, both of which will have contributed to discouraging vital inward investment into the UK. We were therefore pleased that the previous Government acted to set up a new streamlined planning system for major infrastructure projects through the provisions of the Planning Act 2008. We particularly supported the introduction of statutory time limits to give greater assurance that there would be a step change improvement in the time taken to turn round planning applications.

5. UKMPG has no strong views on the overall proposals in the Localism Bill to replace the newly established Infrastructure Planning Commission by a major infrastructure projects unit (MIPU) in the Planning Inspectorate provided that the "one stop shop" concept of the current system is maintained. We also welcome the coalition Government’s stated intention to process applications for major development projects within 12 months of the formal start of the process. However we are concerned at the absence of statutory time limits in the legislation which raises doubts about how deliverable the commitment to decide on projects within 12 months will be in practice. If in view of the non statutory status of the MIPU it is not feasible to include such time limits in legislation, we hope that the Government will establish other incentives to achieve timely performance eg through a financial rebate to applicants if the end to end 12 month performance commitment is not achieved. It is also important that maximum public information is given about the time taken to process applications including the last stage of the process leading up to final decisions by Ministers.

6. Our other main concern relates to the proposal in the Bill to abolish regional spatial strategies (clause 89) alongside the intention to replace Regional Development Agencies are to be replaced by local enterprise partnerships. We look to the Government to ensure that economic priorities are secured through the successor arrangements and that improving local road network links to ports will continue to be an investment priority (including a commitment that transport infrastructure improvements will be a priority area for the new Regional Growth Fund). For their part, ports will continue to work closely with local authorities and other key stakeholders so that there is a good overall understanding of ports’ future development plans, bearing in mind the need to react quickly to changing market circumstances. We recognise that port master plans can have a role to play here, though in line with Government guidance it will be up to individual port authorities to determine whether in the light of local circumstances master planning represents a good use of time and resources.

7. Finally we welcome the proposal in the Bill to provide for backdated port business rates to be written off (clause 38). This rectifies an anomaly under the previous legislation which allowed the Valuation Office to introduce new business rate liabilities several years after the start of the relevant assessment period and impose backdated payments on port businesses which had no realistic chance of meeting them.

8. At a more detailed level we are concerned that the drafting of the sections on assets of community value (clauses 71-78) may inadvertently lead to uncertainty about which types of asset are in scope. The current drafting could imply that any type of land asset could be included on the list whereas we are confident that these provisions were not intended to apply to commercially owned land assets which are in operational use and/or are intended for subsequent development. We trust that the wording of this chapter will be clarified in order to prevent the risk of misunderstanding which could confuse potential investors.

9. A further more detailed point is that the setting up of the MIPU provides an opportunity to revisit the criteria for defining port schemes of national significance. The current minima of 5mn tonnes annual throughput or 500k TEU – twenty foot equivalent – for container projects and 250k for roll on /roll off schemes are set too high and need to be reduced if ports are to be treated on a par with other types of infrastructure.

10. Conclusion We hope that these considerations will be of use to the Committee in its work on the Bill, and would be pleased to expand on them as necessary.

January 2011