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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. In what way?
  (Mr Dempster) One example which we were discussing is this question of trying to develop performance indicators and measures of efficiency.

  161. Why should you not have performance indicators?
  (Mr Dempster) I am not saying we are opposed to that, it is just that this is a new initiative on the part of the Government to start seeking to interest itself in the comparative efficiency of ports which has not been the practice hitherto.

  162. It is not terribly sinister though, is it really? If we do not know how much use ports are to the economy of the United Kingdom, we do not know how efficient they are and we do not know how well they are doing their job, it is very difficult either to defend them within the European institutions or to demonstrate how useful they are to the United Kingdom overall.
  (Mr Dempster) We do not regard it as sinister. I just commented on it as an example of a slightly more interventionist approach.

  163. That is because there has been no involvement in the ports industry as far as I can see for the last 25 years, am I not right?
  (Mr Dempster) There was considerable involvement in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

  164. Yes; perhaps I was thinking that it was earlier than it was. What aspects of the development of the ports industry should the Government seek to influence? What is exclusively the responsibility of the owners and managers and what should the Government be looking at?
  (Mr Dempster) Ports operate under statutory powers granted by Parliament so it is obviously right that the Government should look at the way these statutory powers are exercised. In that sense, it is right that they should take a closer interest than perhaps they do in some. Certainly it is entirely legitimate and proper that the Government should look at some of the issues we have been discussing in terms of safety and the environment. There is also of course the issue which has been continually discussed: the place of ports in transport infrastructure both in relation to the landside links and in the new developments of port facilities as well.

  165. Is it sensible for UK ports to compete one against another?
  (Mr Dempster) I think so. It is important to remember that this is a market driven industry. There is no economic regulation in our industry. It is market driven and there is healthy competition between many of our ports.

  166. Are you quite convinced that you have sufficient capacity? Would you confirm what was said to us earlier?
  (Mr Gray) We have sufficient capacity for the container trade for the next three to five years maximum.

  167. You are assuming that the existing schemes which have been suggested or discussed at the present time would provide you with future capacity.
  (Mr Gray) Ongoing capacity for the future past 2010.

Mr O'Brien

  168. Is much traffic transported across the Channel from the Belgium ports or Rotterdam? Is much traffic deposited in Rotterdam and transferred over to our ports?
  (Mr Gray) Do you mean transhipped, for example?

  169. That is right.
  (Mr Gray) UK final destination.

  170. That is right.
  (Mr Gray) There is some but it is a limited amount only. Most of it is direct haul.

  171. Is it because of capacity or is it because of something else?
  (Mr Gray) It is mostly because of cost. It is an additional handling, an additional leg and there is an additional cost attached to it.

  172. What are you doing to try to change that kind of approach or what is happening so they can come straight into UK ports?
  (Mr Gray) We are continuing to provide the additional capacity for which a lot of the plans are already on the table now. One thing we are going to have to do going into the future is to provide deep-water berths because ships are getting bigger. This has been well publicised in the trade press and it is absolutely essential for the UK, if we are to compete with the North European ports and remain a world player, to provide deep-water berths going into the future.

  173. How advanced are the plans to provide deep-water berths?
  (Mr Gray) We are not that advanced but some of these plans which are on the table at the moment will provide that going into the future, but it will require some quite substantial dredging projects which again have an environmental influence. It is also going to take some considerable investment. With this Directive on Access to Port Services hanging over us, I have to say that certainly from my own group, we are gravely concerned about the impact it is likely to have on our own ports in the United Kingdom. We will have to revisit our own programme of investment for the future in the light of it.


  174. Are you happy with the length of time it has taken for the Government to begin to take an interest in ports? We are dancing around this. Are you saying it is going to cost us so much that if we are going to compete equally and we are going to move into deep-water ports, then we are going to have to find a way of getting support for the infrastructure? Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Gray) We shall definitely require support from the Government to improve the infrastructure.

  175. Are you happy with the Government's plans, the fact that they now are beginning to declare they have a plan and a future for ports? What is your attitude towards that or is it simply that you hope you will bowl along quite cheerfully until you require the cash and then they will cough up?
  (Mr Gray) So far in the main we have received support. It remains to be seen what happens going forward into the future and in particular the necessary consents which are going to be required in order to provide this additional expansion in the four ports which were described earlier.

  176. No Government is going to ignore all its existing environmental involvements or its local involvements or the need for infrastructure in order to help one particular aspect of the transport industry, is it?
  (Mr Gray) Correct.

Mr O'Brien

  177. What kind of capital are we talking about?
  (Mr Gray) It depends on the port, on the depth of water required, on dredging requirements. We normally work on a rule of thumb to build a single berth container terminal which is around £80 million, but you can go from £80 million up to £140 million depending upon the port and the location.

  178. Are you saying that no work has been done by any of the port authorities on the provision of deep-water berths at this time?
  (Mr Gray) At this time we have—not wishing to sound about my own company all the time—in Felixstowe a harbour revision order application has been submitted to provide an additional deep-water berth as an extension to the Trinity terminal. At Dibden Bay, Associated British Ports have also lodged a harbour revision order application to build a very substantial container port. We also are in the process of submitting an application for permission to dredge at Harwich in order that we can develop Barside Bay which is directly adjacent to Harwich port which will provide another four deep- water berths.


  179. We can take it that you have at least thought about it.
  (Mr Gray) This is going on all the time.

  Chairman: I am very grateful to you gentlemen, it has been very interesting. Thank you for coming.

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