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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)



  560. That is all?
  (Dr Huggett) That is all I wish to comment on, yes.

  561. It may not be all I wish to ask you. Dr Avery, are you suggesting that because they need to use their assets more wisely they therefore are much more environmentally friendly?
  (Dr Avery) I do not think we could rely on that always being the case, no.

  562. Do you think that ports make more effort to give environmental assessments?
  (Dr Avery) There has been progress over the last few years. Whether that is to do with privatisation or whether it is to do with changing climate of opinion I would not like to say. One of the issues that perhaps does come out of privatisation is that the government is taking less of a close look at our need for ports.

  563. Less of a close look? Do you mean it is not looking at ports closely?
  (Dr Avery) And the need for them. In the White Paper, the government specifically avoided making forecasts of port traffic for the future. We believe that that is a mistake. How can one take a view about how many ports we need and where they are needed without taking a view on how much traffic should be coming through them. Government takes a view on lots of other areas of development which are largely in the private sector, such as housing. It takes a view of how many houses will be needed in south-east England. Organisations like our own have done some work on trying to predict how much extra need for ports there will be. This seems to be an area that government has walked away from a little, which is fundamental to understanding what the future of ports should be and what their contribution should be.

Mr Bennett

  564. An awful lot of people who have given evidence quote your piece of work on ports. Is not that suggesting that it is already being done in that there is an adequate piece of work there, or are you saying that your work was not good enough?
  (Dr Avery) Our work was quite good but we are planning to update that work now because it will become out of date. Certainly the resources that an NGO can put into this ought to be rather smaller than government, but my colleague may wish to comment.


  565. I do not think that the government can compete with the charities in this country for money.
  (Dr Huggett) A key aspect of the work that we did—and it was carried out for us by a respected consultancy in the ports industry—was that whilst it made predictions on likely shortfalls in capacity by 2010, particularly in the container and roll-on/roll-off sectors, the report raised a number of what we believe to be very important questions which still have not been answered. That is why we are carrying out further work, to have a look at some of those questions.

Mr Bennett

  566. Such as?
  (Dr Huggett) A particularly important one that we want to see addressed is the role of non-infrastructure development in meeting those capacity shortfalls. How much can we achieve through improving efficiency of ports, through—


  567. You just told us they are very much more efficient than they were.
  (Dr Huggett) They are far more efficient than they were. However, in a recent report in Lloyd's List, it was brought to our attention that there are ports in the world which are three times as efficient as the most efficient port in the United Kingdom.

  568. Name them.
  (Dr Huggett) Salalah.

  569. Would you like to give us a country to attach that to?
  (Dr Huggett) I am afraid I cannot. I do not know.

  570. When you find out where it is, do let us know.
  (Dr Huggett) I assumed that, because it was published in Lloyd's List, that it would be a reasonable representation.

  571. That may be one of your mistakes.
  (Dr Huggett) Indeed, but I think there are important issues such as what can be achieved through the application of new technology, superstructure, information technology etc., before we have to rely on infrastructure development.

Mr Bennett

  572. If you are relying on this mythical place, it could totally destroy your argument, could it not, because it might be so efficient because it has huge amounts of space and therefore is able to operate much more efficiently because of the extra space than being able to do it in what are perhaps cramped existing dockland areas?
  (Dr Huggett) My understanding, for instance with containers, is that the constraining features of a port with respect to movement of containers is the quay length and the working area behind. I am not in a position to comment on whether the United Kingdom ports are constrained in that matter.


  573. I am still not convinced by this argument. Give me a specific instance in which the reorganisation of container traffic will efficiently produce an enormous change in the infrastructure needed for a particular port.
  (Dr Huggett) Can you explain your question?

  574. Are you really saying that if they reorganise the way they handle containers this would make it much easier? There will be some enormous benefit from this? You think therefore that this would presumably what? Cut down the amount of port traffic? I am not at all with you, Dr Huggett.
  (Dr Huggett) The argument is that, by increasing their efficiency, they are able to handle more port traffic on the existing estate. They are moving containers more quickly across the quayside and through the container stack.
  (Dr Avery) A type of example would be stacking containers higher, having better computerised records of where containers are so that they are more efficiently found and moved around, not having areas set aside for particular operators, but sharing the whole area more efficiently. It is to do with basically a more efficient way of stacking boxes up and moving them around.

  575. You do not think that this has occurred to the port authorities?
  (Dr Avery) I am sure it has, but the more government and the public put pressure on developers in any industry to make the most of the area that they already have the more they will use their ingenuity to find efficiencies.

  576. You can name a major port in this country that is not seeking to become more efficient and has demonstrated the desire to develop very quickly without using its existing estate, can you?
  (Dr Avery) I cannot, but you can see that if it is easy to gain more land in order to gain that efficiency then that is a route down which any developer might go. The more developers are constrained to become more efficient on the land they have already, the more imaginative they will be about that. That is what we should encourage because port developments are going to be environmentally damaging.

  577. But you do not know of one offhand?
  (Dr Avery) No. I could not tell you of one offhand.

  578. No one has brought to you an argument that says, "This particular port is being expanded in such a way which is wasteful of land; they are throwing away money on buying acres they do not need because they do not want to buy a computerised handling system"?
  (Dr Huggett) We are aware of arguments concerning certain port proposals at the moment.

  579. Which ones?
  (Dr Huggett) I am aware of arguments put about the port of Southampton, as to whether they are using their existing estate as efficiently as possible.

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