Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Welsh Ports Group

Summary of Main Points

Welsh ports depend on their connectivity to the transport network both at the border and within Wales.

A number of improvement schemes, optimising the existing transport network, could be developed which would have significant benefits for freight and sea passenger flows.

Freight transport, as distinct from passenger transport, should be given greater priority within transport planning.

Ports represent major opportunities for economic growth and regeneration.

Background

1. We very much welcome this inquiry. This response is made on behalf of the Welsh Ports Group which represents the overwhelming majority of cargo and all sea passengers passing through Welsh ports. We have concentrated on current cross border road and rail provision. Links with Ireland create their own, highly significant, cross border connectivity issues, and we have included these in our submission.

2. Connectivity is the foundation of successful ports, and successful Welsh ports are fundamentally important to the Welsh and indeed to the UK economies. The total cargo throughput for 2010 (the latest recorded year) was 60 million tonnes, equivalent to 12% of the UK total and amounting to a record year for port traffic in Wales in spite of economic challenges. Passenger throughput in 2010 was 2.9 million, representing 14% of the UK total.

3. Although ports in Wales are privately funded, they nevertheless depend on public investment in road and rail connections. Moving freight efficiently is an objective that can be overlooked in the face of the claims of public transport investment. Of course investment in public transport is important too, but bearing in mind limited resources, proper consideration needs to be given to ensuring that freight connectivity has sufficient priority.

4. Such connectivity is closely tied in with promoting economic growth and regeneration. In our view, the Welsh Government (WG) should concentrate on improving those parts of the network where improved performance will support economic growth. This would entail investment to improve congested urban areas, key inter urban routes and links to international gateways as represented by ports.

The Arrangements Currently in Place to Co-ordinate Cross-border Road and Rail Transport Services Provision

5. In addition to the England/Wales border, we regard the efficiency of the connections to Ireland as another important border worthy of consideration. The route to and from Ireland is a major EU network connecting Ireland and the UK to Continental markets.

6. The primary freight routes are self-evidently the North and South main arteries, connecting the border with routes terminating at Holyhead and Fishguard/Pembroke and which connect all the main ports in Wales. The adequacy of road links to Holyhead is a key concern to all those who use the port. These links represent a strong example of where relatively small improvements in terms of budget and construction could make significant differences to traffic flow and ease of use of the port. For example, the A55 expressway stops some distance from check-in facilities and this in turn causes delay to freight and passengers. Not only do these blockages increase costs to users, they also represent a constraint on future freight and tourism growth. Also, the section of strategic highway from the North West of England to Holyhead seems to be the subject of continuous repair, delay and congestion. Apart from a better co-ordinated effort to manage traffic, these problems could be susceptible to better information supplied to users about restrictions and potential delays through the use of improved IT and telematics.

7. Because of strategic links to Ireland through this Northern route and thereafter to England and the Continent, this is a fundamentally important part of the Welsh, UK and EU transport network requiring prioritisation and investment.

8. In South Wales, major improvements to the M4 are needed. The restrictions imposed by the Bryn Glas tunnel are a particular problem. There is also a concern for the South Wales ports that the proposal for a new motorway to bisect Newport Docks will adversely impact trade through the Port of Newport; this is the subject of consultation between Newport and WG, and remains an important issue. As with the North Wales routes, a number of local road enhancement projects could, at relatively low cost, generate significant benefits. These include the completion of the Port Talbot peripheral distributor road, the Fabian Way infrastructure enhancement works at Swansea and the Eastern Bay link road in Cardiff, all of which would improve links to the immediate hinterland.

9. The majority of freight is delivered to and collected from Welsh ports by road and for commercial and practical reasons this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. In relation to traffic using the three major Welsh port Ro/Ro gateways—Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke—it is extremely unlikely that there will be a significant freight shift from road to rail. Indeed there have been several private sector studies in the last 20 years examining options for transferring Ro/Ro freight on to trains at ports, as often occurs in Europe. The findings were that to do this would involve substantial costs and that rolling stock complications make this option unfeasible. This demonstrates the vital importance of the maintenance and improvement of the northern and southern road corridors.

10. There is however always room for development, and rail could play a stronger role, particularly for developing container and bulk business. Rail freight paths have to be retained and protected and to this end, it is vital that Network Rail, the freight operating companies, WG and other key stakeholders continually address capacity and capability constraints on the network. These should include the removal of freight network pinch points—for example the Severn Tunnel—and address gauge issues.

11. Another important aspect is connections, both in terms of road and rail, west of Swansea. The port operations Pembroke Dock and Fishguard have important Ro/Ro connections to Ireland. These are vital economic gateways but are not served by the best road access. The A40 which begins at Fishguard is a single carriageway road for 35 miles with only one two lane section east bound for overtaking, and none west bound. As well as these gateways to Ireland the substantial port operations at Milford Haven, which in terms of tonnages is the third busiest UK port, often appear marginalised in terms of road provision. Improvements in road connections to Pembrokeshire on the southern corridor would therefore link Milford Haven and Fishguard, along with south west Wales, to England and the wider UK motorway network.

12. The North and South Wales main lines, plus the Marches Route from Newport to Chester and Crewe, are capable of handling traffic loaded to the maximum axle weight. Nevertheless, all these routes, plus the lines from South Wales through the Severn Tunnel and to the Midlands, have a restricted loading gauge. This constrains rail movement for the larger containers now used in deep and short sea shipping unless specialised wagons are used. Extending rail capability westwards would open up new opportunities for Port Talbot, Swansea and Milford Haven. Our understanding is that there are still no plans to remedy this through needed new investment.

13. Equally there is a need for electrification which could be carried out in parallel with gauge clearance. Similarly, electrification of the North Wales main line, with provision of W10 gauge capability through to Holyhead, could provide opportunities for the movement of containers. It is equally important that the capacity for handling existing flows, as well as growth in rail freight, is protected. This is a further example of the potential benefits of prioritising freight as opposed to passenger transport. It is acknowledged that the cost of rail enhancement schemes are significant, but they are strongly linked with increased port business and rail is a priority under the TEN-T programme.

Border Controls

14. In addition to addressing road and rail connections along the lines already suggested is consideration of the efficiency of the border itself. Welsh and Irish ports are part of the Common Travel Area (CTA) which should ensure the free flow of passengers, but the operations of the UKBA can cause delay as passengers are checked for ID. There is also a strong Special Branch presence at Welsh ports which can also create delays. We would certainly resist any attempt to dismantle the CTA and introduce full border requirements.

TEN-T

15. TEN-T is under review and final decisions are unlikely to be made until 2013. It is important that WG is fully involved in discussions bearing in mind that Wales has two proposed Core Network ports, Cardiff and Newport, and four ports proposed for the Comprehensive Network, namely Swansea, Milford Haven, Fishguard and Holyhead. It is uncertain what the significance of being on the Comprehensive Network is, but the fact that they are identified confirms that these are important links within the EU network for both freight and passengers and deserve priority within UK transport planning.

16. In the maps currently provided by the Commission, the North and South Wales road connections are described as “completed”. This could be challenged, although indications are that under the new TEN-T programme, funds for road projects will not be available, either for Core or Comprehensive Network ports. The Commission do intend, however, to make funds available for rail, and the WG, working closely with DfT, should be in a position to negotiate for a share of these. The Welsh Ports Group continues to work closely with the Welsh Government to explore every opportunity for improving connectivity available under the TEN-T programme. This would include making the case for improved road connections on which Welsh ports are so dependant. We look forward to discussing these points further with the Welsh Government.

12 April 2012

Prepared 5th March 2013