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

Memorandum by the North West Coastal Forum (P 30)


  1.  The North West Coastal Forum was established last year in response to stakeholder demand. Its essential purpose is to further the interests of integrated coastal zone management and coastal planning along the highly sensitive coast in this urbanised region with its wealth of valuable coastal habitats alongside busy economic activity. The Steering Group of the Forum, which meets quarterly, is actively participated in by over 20 interested agencies from the public, business and non-governmental sectors. It is currently led and serviced by the Government Office for the North West. Annex A summarises more fully the purposes and activities of the Forum.

  2.  This submission is made following consultation between key members of the Forum and represents issues which are on its current agenda as matters of concern.

  3.  The biggest port in the region is of course Liverpool (encompassing Bootle/Seaforth in Sefton Borough as well as Birkenhead), which is thriving and ranks sixth nationally in terms of tonnage handled (excluding oil). Heysham is growing rapidly due to the boom in Irish Sea trade. Probably these two, along with other facilities on the Mersey, are the ones which would be considered "major" at a national scale. The other main commercial ports are Fleetwood, Barrow and Silloth in Cumbria. The other significant ports in the region, Whitehaven and Workington, do not at present handle commercial traffic.


  4.  Concern has been expressed at the proposed growth of Mostyn on the Welsh side of the Dee estuary. This concern is partly environmental due to the scale of dredging envisaged, and economic in terms of a perceived duplication of ro-ro facilities (construction of which is expected to begin soon at Twelve Quays, Birkenhead). The growth at Mostyn is said to be for the export of aircraft components from the nearby Broughton aerospace factory, and certainly has a logic in terms of sustainable movement of goods. It is not proposed to discuss the merits of the proposal, or the potential further growth of the port, here.

  5.  The issues of principle arising from the Mostyn debate are twofold.

  6.  Firstly, there is the question of reconciling the interests of commercial freedom and sound infrastructural planning. The principle of allowing commercial shipping to go where it will to meet the needs of its customers should not lightly be interfered with. However, it has to be recognised that port expansion and modernisation is a highly capital-intensive process and the interests of sustainable development are not served by duplication or excess capacity. This is complicated by the context of devolved government, with Wales and the North West region being governed by a less centralised regime than was the case until recently.

  7.  The Forum would argue that there needs to be a satisfactory means of assessing and resolving these issues.

  8.  Secondly, devolution in this instance (and maybe others if the process continues) raises the question of consistency of approach in operating economic assistance regimes. Returning to Mostyn, concern has been expressed in the North West that Regional Selective Assistance has been offered here where it has been denied elsewhere on grounds of being "anti-competitive". It is argued also that the grant offered is legitimately applied to transport infrastructure rather than port facilities and again, it is not proposed here to rehearse the arguments, merely to offer the debate as an example of an issue which could be usefully addressed; at which point does such assistance become a distorting intervention in a very competitive industry?


  9.  The main operational issue here is that of the "Single Management Scheme" concept introduced by the European Commission's Habitats Directive and ensuing UK Regulations.

  10.  All the estuaries in the North West are or contain Special Protection Areas or Ramsar sites—that is, they are internationally recognised for their importance to nature conservation. Modern Ports makes the point that the country's ports have a good record of co-existing with valuable natural habitats. However, as regulatory regimes become more sophisticated, operating within them becomes more of a challenge.

  11.  Article 6-3 of the Habitats Directive says; "Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site's conservation objectives". This is very far-reaching, and particularly significant for Liverpool and Heysham, where most activity, and any development, is likely to have such an environmental impact.

  12.  The Regulations of 1994 (regulation 34) introduced the concept of a single management scheme for European maritime sites. As a single scheme this must involve co-operation between all relevant agencies, including the port authority where there is one. It also gives the port an opportunity to get involved pro-actively and to integrate the environment, earlier and more effectively, in its planning processes. The Association of British Ports has argued, and the Forum would agree, that the single management scheme concept thus provides a template for a much more positive and creative relationship than is normally the case between business and environmental interests. Again, Modern Ports (2.5.23.) touches on this point.

  13.  Agencies such as PISCES (the Partnership of Irish Sea Coastal and Estuary Strategies) would certainly welcome continuing and developing involvement by port authorities in this kind of work. It should be noted that the Association of British Ports is already actively involved in this sphere.

  14.  It follows, as stated in Modern Ports, that such an approach extends to the broader concept of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), a developing concept being promoted at a European level via the Interreg programme, and in which the North West Coastal Forum is particularly interested. ICZM offers a platform for a holistic approach to coastal issues, integrating social and economic factors along with the consideration of the littoral environment.


  15.  The North West Coastal Forum is arguing that Regional Planning Guidance for the North West (RPG13), whose Public Examination is scheduled for February/March 2001, should adopt the kind of integrated perspective which the above considerations imply. This mirrors the advice of PPG11 "Regional Planning" (albeit with a concentration on physical matters). The point of looking at ports regionally is that they are not only harbours but also communities—often, as in the North West, among the most economically precarious and socially stressed, by virtue of their peripherality and vulnerability to economic and technological change. It is important that this aspect not be overlooked.

  16.  It could be argued that Modern Ports has the shortcoming of looking at ports as an industry. They are much more than that. We have been reminded in recent months of the impact of industrial closures on the communities whose lifeblood they are. Of course, many of our ports have suffered from this kind of change in the past, but usually over a much more protracted period. The modern port is a much more intensive operation than in the past, but harbour operations remain crucial to the communities in which they operate. The Sub-Committee would do well to bear in mind the social background to the technical, management and regulatory issues contained in its terms of reference.

  17.  In Merseyside especially the relationship between port and community is worthy of study. This is a very historic port and one that has evolved in a way which, however necessary and desirable for the port itself, has had traumatic social and economic consequences for the communities whose fortunes have for many generations been interlinked with it. This process can be compared with the changes which have taken place in the Port of London; but on Merseyside the impact of this change has been proportionally much greater, whilst there has not been anything like the same scale of redevelopment and regeneration.

  18.  On a much broader scale the importance of ports in the development of regional, national and European spatial policy has been recognised. This region is involved in the NETA project, and Interreg-funded initiative looking at the linkage across northern Europe, in which the Mersey-Humber "land bridge" is very significant. Such linkages again have resonance far beyond the operational areas of the ports themselves.

  19.  Within this region and on Merseyside especially, an interesting and important package of measures and processes is evolving;

    —  the Forum itself as a strategic partnership;

    —  the economic growth of the port, next to a city which is perceived by outsiders as one which has lost its port function, and next to communities which perhaps perceive themselves as gaining little from this growth;

    —  the onset of Objective 1 status as a large scale regeneration package;

    —  the potential to see the port as a regional growth generator, in the same way that airports are commonly regarded.

  20.  Thus the situation in the North West regionally, and on Merseyside in particular, merits particular attention by the sub-committee and might indeed justify a study visit.


January 2001

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