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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760 - 779)

WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001

MR STEVE CUTHBERT, REAR ADMIRAL BRUCE RICHARDSON, MR BO LERENIUS AND MR DENNIS DUNN

Mr Donohoe

  760. The thing I cannot understand about this, when we were at Grimsby we saw that the record for cars was brilliant, there had not been a car damaged in a full year. If you are doing that but if you have got high accident rates then you have got some problems in terms of what your goods are like when they come out of a port. One would presume that one goes with the other. Given that fact, why is it that we have got such high levels? Have we got so many damaged goods coming from and to the port?
  (Mr Lerenius) There is always a human factor if you relate it to goods. Once again, I do not disagree, I think that if we had an incident rate we might say, and we would say, that coming down to 12 is now a substantial improvement if you look, say, five, six, seven years back from our point of view. We have improved rather substantially but it is not good enough, I do not disagree with that. We have to continue to improve on that.

  761. Is the competition a factor between ports?
  (Mr Lerenius) Not on safety, no, the safety is very, very high profile in the ports business. In ABP—I know more about ABP obviously—safety is the first point on the agenda in all board meetings, we have an organisation which is very well trained. We train all the people in the organisation and we continue to train them and develop training. I would say that competition has nothing to do with it. I do not think it ever can have anything to do with competition frankly.

  762. Why in the industry are there two bodies, one safety and one training? Why do they not just merge into the one?
  (Mr Lerenius) I think that is partly historical.
  (Mr Dunn) We are members. We are involved in both. From our point of view in the training stakes we do an awful lot ourselves as well so we do not necessarily rely upon it but we do encourage it. I think there is an argument as to whether there should be a joining, whether that would be a more effective means of dealing with training and safety, bringing the things together. One of the things that is currently being examined by the business at the present time is the future of the port safety organisation in that how is that structure for the future. There are some discussions about to start on that but it may lead us to the natural conclusion that there should be a coming together. I think it is under review.

  763. It is under review at present?
  (Mr Dunn) The future of how we deal with the port safety organisation is under review. I think it is a good question as to how we structure those two things for the future.

  764. Mr Cuthbert?
  (Mr Cuthbert) I think the point you are making is a very good one and there is one technical point I want to make, not to be difficult. As far as the British Ports Industry Training is concerned, it has what is called NTO -National Training Organisation—status from the Government and that is designated by the DfEE, the Department for Education and Employment. To be an NTO you have to have an independent board and be an independent body with industry representatives being on your board of directors. In a sense, here for a smaller organisation it is part of the fragmentation, but it is only part of the answer it is not the whole answer, and I am not trying to pull the wool over your eyes in any way.

Chairman

  765. As an industry you are great ones for going off and doing your own little bits, are you not? It would be an embarrassment if you all had to work together and meet agreed standards.
  (Mr Cuthbert) I think it would be very helpful if this Committee could recommend that this was actually looked at and we were encouraged to look at this.

  766. Do not be surprised, Mr Cuthbert, if we make all sorts of recommendations that we shall expect you to follow with some vigour.
  (Mr Cuthbert) Thank you.

Mr Bennett

  767. I think you probably heard English Nature suggest that they were not very happy with the planning process. Have you got any views about the planning process for future developments?
  (Mr Lerenius) Yes, it is no use to sit whining, we are all part of the process, are we not? It is a rather complicated process. I am not sure it is all in line with, say, the Government's policy on sustainable development which is a very balanced view on these things. Right now we sense that in comparison to how things seem to develop and how fast planning seems to go on the Continent, it is slower here. It seems that the environmental organisation has quite some power over the process. I think also, maybe, when you look at development, like a development in a port, you could actually improve on congestion problems, CO2 problems, etc. We are not really certain that they are put into the picture, at least not enough consideration is put on that.

  768. English Nature more or less were suggesting that what we needed was agreement as to how many extra port facilities were going to be needed over the next ten to 15 years. Your assertion that it is three major developments which are needed, ought that to be tested by the Government who should come up with some Government strategy to say that three would be the solution or two would be sufficient?
  (Mr Lerenius) We are then talking only about container developments?

  769. Yes?
  (Mr Lerenius) We are only talking about one business. There will be a need for four developments if the UK is going to stay competitive. There will be a need for more ports development than that. Also, as Mr Dunn mentioned, there are more growth sectors than the container business.

  770. Do you think the first thing should be for the Government to come to some view as to how much is needed or should it be left totally to the market to decide?
  (Mr Lerenius) I think frankly the market will decide what is needed here.

  771. If the market is going to decide, then is it not right to have a very vigorous planning process to test the market on each development?
  (Mr Lerenius) I do not think we have any problems with a vigorous planning process, that is fine. I understand that is needed, these are major projects but we might have the view that it is a bit slow.

Chairman

  772. Mr Cuthbert, do you want to comment?
  (Mr Cuthbert) Yes, thank you. It is not dead certain but it is almost inevitable that today in a development of this size to obtain the various environmental consents a port developer is going to be required to show that the project is financially viable and possibly, too, that it is in the overriding public interest this development goes ahead. The system that Mr Bennett is describing is within the existing environmental consents procedure. I would support Mr Lerenius in saying it is right that in public inquiries the ports' position is tested against these kinds of criteria.

Mr Bennett

  773. It is likely to be tested at the inquiries into three major developments, is it not?
  (Mr Cuthbert) Yes.

  774. Would it not be better to have it tested once nationally?
  (Mr Cuthbert) With respect, I think that ignores the position of the investors in these projects who are major PLC type companies who are going to have to demonstrate to their shareholders that they produce a return on these investments and to the bankers who are going to finance them. Therefore, I think, having a system where the port developer has to demonstrate the viability of his project internally and to his banker and ultimately to his shareholders and then to the Government in the form of an inquiry is a good system.

  775. The complaint that has been put to us is that it takes too long. How do you shorten that?
  (Mr Cuthbert) I think that is more the issue of the conflicting environmental regulations that are very complex and very difficult to follow. I think it would be helpful if someone could look at the whole of these environmental regulations and see how the whole process could be made easier and in that we would support English Nature.

  Mr Bennett: How would it be made easier?

Chairman

  776. What aspect of it do you want changed?

  (Mr Cuthbert) What I would like to see is the Better Regulation Task Force look at this whole area so we have consistent environmental regulations. At the moment the environmental regulations differ from category to category so that they are marginally different, say, between a special area of conservation and a special protected area. It is very complex and very difficult for everybody to follow a procedure that means you get all the right approvals at one particular time in a logical, progressive and systematic way.

  777. Is there not a danger then that they might be ratcheted up considerably? If you are looking for a common denominator between a Site of Special Scientific Interest and something that has an environmental impact but rather lower down the scale, and you seek right the way across the board to treat them in exactly the same way, would that not have the danger that it might impose greater burdens?
  (Mr Cuthbert) It might do but I would hope that it would not.

Mr Bennett

  778. You are suggesting that it is environmental regulations which are difficult not the planning process?
  (Mr Cuthbert) Yes, I think the planning process itself through the planning acts for a port development are the relatively easy bit. It is getting the environmental approval which is the complex and costly and time consuming area.

  779. You do not see that one of these major developments will rival Terminal 5 in terms of the time that it will take and money it will cost?
  (Mr Cuthbert) I would hope not.


 
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