Memorandum by Dr Merv Rowlinson, London
Guildhall University (TYP 58)
This evidence seeks to address the problem of
increasing use of the water option for freight movements around
the British Isles and to both Ireland and Continental Europe.
The point of contention is that Britain lags someway behind Northern
European trading partnersFrance, Belgium, Holland, Germany
in the utilisation of coastal and river shipping. However, within
the context of the 10 Year Plan, the role of coastal, short-sea
and inland shipping in achieving a modal shift from roads to water
is currently being enhanced by two complementary forces:
(1) the renaissance of British Shipping;
(2) the success of the Freight Facility Grant.
From this perspective, the aim of British Shipping
Charting a New Course (DETR 1998) to enhance coastal and short-sea
shipping is being realised. Likewise, the aim of Waterways For
Tomorrow (DETR 2000), to promote inland shipping. The success
of the Tonnage Tax and associated initiatives has significant
implications for coastal shipping. At least five UK coastal shipping
firms are now well placed, with new tonnage and highly professional
crews, to participate in growth. The encouraging take-up of Freight
Facility Grants in the last four years proves the entrepreneurial
vitality of the coastal-inland sector. Also, the interdependence
of coastal/shortsea and inland routes, as served by sea-river
ships, adds a vital competitive edge to water transport. Building
on these two complementary factors, the evidence submitted here
points to the possibilities of shipping achieving growth, given
a supportive transport policy. The approach advocated here is
of a specific, incrementalist nature as opposed to the mega strategies
of the Trans European Networks. The contention is that any revisions
of the 10 Year Plan will need to specifically focus on five critical
areas in order to facilitate shipping growth:
the disguised decline of coastal
the detrimental rise of road haulage;
haulage barriers to new shipping
the detrimental impact of ro-ro shipping
on shortsea shipping; and
the detrimental impact of "gentrified"
port areas and river systems.
2. THE DISGUISED
Although the UK's domestic tonnage figures for
coastal shipping are by far the highest in Europe, the overwhelming
influence of large tanker crude oil movements from the North Sea
oil fields needs to be recognised. Coastwise and one-port oil
and petroleum movementsprimarily from Scottish oil fieldsaccount
for around 80 per cent of total UK waterborne freight. Britain's
oil resources provide for a unique European opportunity for tanker
shipping. Other than pipeline there is no alternative to tanker
shipping in linking the oil fields with the refineries. However,
when oil movements are taken out of the statistics a vastly different
picture emerges, pointing to the low use of coastal shipping for
dry cargo coastal and inland movements. In the 1990s, comparative
European tonne-kilometre figures for inland shipping illustrated
the relatively weak position weak position of the UK with its
annual average of 0.2 billion tonne-kilometres dwarfed by Germany's
64.0 billion tonne-kilometres. Whilst road journeys in the congested
regions of Britain suffer increased transit times (resulting in
declining vehicle and driver productivity) the shipping alternative
has largely been ignored.
3. THE RISE
Coastal shipping declined in the 1960-70 period
as a result of the emerging motorway age. Since that period the
utilisation of shipping on such intensive routes as London-Newcastle
has not seriously been considered. The dramatic rise of road haulage
in the post 1945 period eclipsed both rail and shipping as the
premier freight transport mode. Increases in the size and speed
of lorries, accompanied by fuel efficiency gains and a comprehensive
road building programme, have all increased the attraction of
the road mode. The enduring levels of competition stimulated by
the relative ease of market entry has ensured that price competition
is always vigorous. The trunk trades between North and South Britain
have increased at the expense of railfreight and coastal shipping.
Reliability, flexibility and just-in-time logistics has helped
to facilitate road's dominance. In the 1960s a round trip between
Dundee and London would require at least seven days to complete
by road. By the 1980s it would have been possible to make the
round trip in 2.5 days.
Road improvement schemes have proved conducive
to improving road efficiency and served to the detriment of shipping.
For example, road upgrades on the South West side of Bristol made
it feasible for road tankers to complete a round trip, within
the permitted ten hours driving, between the Bristol Channel's
oil installations and the petrol stations of Somerset and North
Devon. This factor was instrumental in the closure of the coastal
shipping served petroleum distribution depot at Yelland (Somerset).
The steady increase in vehicle payloads and improvements in fuel
efficiency has also improved road haulage efficiency and competitiveness.
It has also become evident in the high unemployment years of the
1980s and early 1990s that the supply of drivers, boosted by stocks
of temporary "agency" staff, had brought about a fiercely
cost competitive and highly flexible labour force.
3. THE HAULAGE
The economic pressure of a dynamic road haulage
sector has in several instances stifled new shipping initiatives
in recent years. The ability of hauliers to adjust their rates
downwards has served as a barrier to new coastal shipping services.
In June 1994 optimism was reported for a new feeder service linking
the West Country port, Falmouth with the deepsea hub, Thamesport.
The intention was for a weekly service to integrate with the round
the world container liner services of the major Taiwanese carrier,
Evergreen Line. Falmouth port director, Mike Deeks, heralded the
initiative, claiming that the service
"has enormous potential in Cornwall and
Devon, which for many years have been disadvantaged by the very
high costs of transporting containers by road to the deepsea ports."
(Lloyd's List 13.6.94)
Two staple Cornish export traffics were identified
as the core for the estimated break-even point of 30 containers:
Powdered China Clay and Bottled Steam Beer from the Redruth Brewery.
Despite the apparent demand the service failed after only six
weeks; the required traffic levels had failed to materialise.
Partly this was as a result of hauliers reducing their rates in
order to stifle the new competition. The short-lived Southampton-Grangemouth
container service suffered a similar fate at around the same time.
It is evident that a predatory pricing "piranha" effect
occurs with lorry operators reducing rates in a spontaneous reaction
to a new shipping service.
4. THE DEVELOPMENT
Somewhat complementary to the growth of haulage
is the rise of shortsea ro-ro shipping on the Irish Sea, North
Sea and Channel routes. The impact of ro-ro shipping is that it
has totally re-shaped the pattern of business between Continental
Europe, the British Isles and Ireland. The success of ro-ro shipping,
however, has proved detrimental to shortsea break-bulk shipping
in the Continental trades. At its most intense the Dover-Calais
schedule offers a turn and go service at 30 minute intervals.
This gave road haulage operators the ultimate flexibility in combining
their schedules with ferry sailings. The pattern of ro-ro ferry
development has been one of concentration on the shortest crossing
route, a factor that maximises the road haulage length. As a consequence,
such short-sea routes as Dover-Calais and Stranraer-Larne have
prospered at the expense of lo-lo shortsea shipping. An early
casualty of the switch to ro-ro activity was the Manchester-Paris
express liner service. The linking of these two inland ports by
small vessels had been a successful example of sea-river shipping.
However, the development of large ro-ro ferries and the complementary
growth of motorway networks on both sides of the Channel contributed
to the demise of the service. An extreme form of this pattern
became evident in the early 1999s in the trades between the Irish
Republic and Continental Europe. The 1992 publication, Green Links
to Europe, (Rowlinson and Salveson) reported that thousands of
trucks were making the long UK landbridge passage to Continental
per year. The 1998 failure of the short-lived East Coast Ferries
venture shows the difficulties facing operators offering an alternative
to the shortest crossing route. The venture attempted the operation
of a scheduled ro-ro freight service between the Hull and Dunkerque.
The harsh reality discovered by the operator was that hauliers
preferred to maximise the road leg and minimise the sea leg, not
the opposite! Loadings were poor and the new venture quickly ran
into irredeemable cash flow difficulties. A number of factors
have contributed to the rise of the intensive shortsea ro-ro routes.
Initially it was the vertical integration of the vessels into
the railway timetable. Gradually as the development in ro-ro technology
matched the inexorable rise in road transport the rail oriented
business evolved. The ability to combine the foot passengers emanating
from the rail system with cars, coaches and heavy goods vehicles
provided a lucrative business opportunity for the ferry companies.
Competition with the British Rail ferries, Sealink, only served
to intensify this trend. Road development and up-grade schemes
such as the Anglo-Scottish M6 motorway and A75 trunk road have
served to intensify this trend. Similar road schemes in Ulster
and the Irish Republic have served to increase road haulage's
The net result of the growth of shortsea ferry
linkages to and from Ulster/Eire, France, Belgium and the Netherlands
has been to reduce the tonne-mileage of lo-lo shipping. Examples
include the transfer of traffics between West Coast UK and the
Netherlands from coastal liner services to road ro-ro linkages
utilising the Dover Straits crossing. Economic growth in the Irish
Republic has induced a surge in shortsea ro-ro shipping to Dublin.
It was reported in July 2000 that "The port's buoyant transformation
has been a result of the booming Irish economy which as seen a
massive surge in unitised traffic. This now accounts for 74 per
cent of total throughput, with ro-ro handling accounting for 52
per cent of the overall volumes. The capacity utilisation rate
for ro ro traffic, is, according to a KPMG study prepared for
the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, projected to increase to 110 per
cent by 2007..."
||Line||Sailings Per Day
|Liverpool||P&O Irish Sea Ferries
One shortsea tanker service to ruined by the rise of ro ro
shipping was the bulk movement of Guinness beer from Dublin to
the Runcorn bottling and canning plant. The purpose built 1732
dwt, Miranda Guinness, was replaced in the early 1990s
by road tankers using the ro-ro service to Liverpool, generating
at least 260 weekly round road trips over the congested Widnes-Runcorn
The upsurge in ro-ro traffic in the Dover Straits and such
East Coast ports as Harwich, Ipswich, Hull and Immingham, can
be seen very much in correlation with the shift in the direction
of trade brought about by European integration. The problem for
shortsea shipping in the Continental and Irish trades is that
ro-ro shipping normally promotes the shortest sea crossing and
ergo the longest road journey leg.
5. THE GENTRIFICATION
One unexpected outcome of the mix of de-industrialisation
and industrial relocation processes, post 1970s, has been the
transformation of port areas into desirable residential quarters.
The marketing of properties, accompanied by rising prices, has
forced a reassessment of the waterfront, its use and its valuation.
On the Thames, Manchester Ship Canal and at Gloucester Basin the
property interest has developed an often haughty and unsympathetic
stance towards shipping. The process of "gentrification"
that has occurred on the London Borough of Greenwich's once industrial
waterfront has led to opposition to the continued handling of
grain traffics in the close proximity of the new housing. Likewise
it is highly apparent the Manchester Ship Canal Company (before
its buy-out by Peel Holdings) had been more enthusiastic about
developing such prestigious projects as the Trafford Centre along
its banks than pursuing new shipping businesses.
A similar effect has been felt by the rise of the water leisure
business. As canals, rivers have attracted leisure seekers in
large numbers, the dependence on commercial shipping has diminished.
A particular criticism of the waterways custodian, British Waterways,
has been the focus on leisure and environment at the expense of
shipping. Pleasure boating is popular, brings in considerable
revenues and does not require the high level of infrastructure
expenditure that shipping requires, obviating much of the cost
of dredging. The deterioration of the River Weaver's water level
has jeopardised coastal tanker services to the chemical industries
of Mid-Cheshire. By the late 1990s the tanker vessel, St Kearan,
which was purpose built for the river, was finding it increasingly
difficult to load beyond 50 per cent capacity. Draft restrictions
forced loading from road tankers to take place some 15 miles downstream.
The additional delay and expense that this transhipment process
necessitated eventually destroyed any advantages that the coastal
tanker option enjoyed over road haulage for bulk deliveries to
the Scottish West Coast.
The condition of the River Weaver, which links the industrial
Mid-Cheshire area with the Manchester Ship Canal (ultimately the
River Mersey and the Irish Sea) became the subject of the Parliamentary
Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs (2000-1).
Evidence submitted referred to the neglected state of the River,
leading to the loss of traffic. The evidence was taken from a
number of interested parties including two shipowners, the River
Pilot and the transport manager of one of the Mid-Cheshire areas
Concern expressed by these stakeholders was that British Waterways
was not fulfilling its obligation to dredge the river. The River
Pilot was particularly concerned by the risk of doing serious
damage to the St. Kearan due to constant groundings on
the loaded outward voyage. Although these allegations were refuted
by British Waterways, the evidence does suggest that leisure and
environmental targets are taking precedence over commercial activity.
6. SUMMARY AND
This paper has sought to identify areas where policy can
best serve the objective achieving a modal shift from road to
water. Whilst it recognised that initially modest results can
be anticipated, it is also contended that an incrementalist approach,
capable of recognising the barriers to this modal shift, will
produce long-term results.
"Traffic surge pressure on Dublin", Lloyd's List.
20.7.00. p. 11. Back
Evidence given to the Environment and Regional affairs Committee.... Back