Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)

WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002

MR DAVID JAMIESON MP, MR STEPHEN REEVES AND MR ANDREW BURR

  340. In containers only?
  (Mr Burr) Yes. The industry is very complex. It is not like passengers at airports. Every box has something different in it. There seemed to be a consensus that there would be steady growth. What was more difficult was to get an agreed handle on when a port was full. There are people who will argue for a tighter fit. The users want flexibility so they are not tied to very narrow slots because they are weather dependent and so on. That debate is still continuing.

Miss McIntosh

  341. Are you satisfied that there is a level playing field in the way that environmental directives such as the Habitats Directive or Birds Directive are implemented across the European Union?
  (Mr Jamieson) It is not unusual for directives to be implemented in different ways in this country to other countries in the European Union.

Chairman

  342. This is our evening for stating the obvious.
  (Mr Jamieson) The great truth of the day has been spoken. It will come as a total surprise to you to hear this. There is a serious point here. Environmental issues are taken very seriously in this country and quite properly so. There is an increasing awareness of environmental issues and that is reflected in the use of ports and estuaries. However, we do have some concerns about this and we have asked English Nature to carry out a review of the way the directives are being implemented in comparison from here to other countries. We want to see if there are differentials. Once we have done that, it will inform any further action we may want to take.

Miss McIntosh

  343. We are not gold plated?
  (Mr Jamieson) I do not think we are gold plated. We do take environmental issues very seriously. If we did not, the ports industry would be very exposed and would get itself an extremely bad name. It is right we have to look to the directives and we have to be guided by those, but we also have to be very much directed and guided by public opinion in this country. Government has to react and respond to that appropriately and that may be different. We may have different priorities from other countries. Nevertheless, it is a matter that we are aware of and we are looking into most carefully.

  344. Do you think the right balance has been struck between preserving the environment and allowing ports to flourish, bearing in mind the cost of implementing some of these directives?
  (Mr Jamieson) That is a very fundamental, important question. The inquiry process that we have is there to expose the socio-economic needs of a new port development. It is there to look very much at the environmental needs and the impact on people in the area. That inquiry process in this country is independent and separate from the government and the other players in it. It thereby has to assess very carefully the differing demands. This is one of those areas where we have to tread very carefully to find a balance between very important environmental issues—and they are important; we have a precious coastline that we must protect—and on the other hand, we have our economy and we have the needs of the people and the businesses of this country which we also must make sure develops as a 21st century country. It is a delicate and balanced line. If you said to me, "Have we got the balance about right?" I think we probably have, but it is one of those balances that will shift with the way public opinion develops.

  345. What role do you play and is there a rule that you apply in the event of precisely that conflict of a port seeking to expand, to develop its container capacity from short sea shipping, and the environmental constraints?
  (Mr Jamieson) The role we play is trying to find that fine balance. You will know that in some of the cases not related to ports—the example in Hastings of one of the road developments there—the balance was towards the environmental issues and we turned that down. Equally, with ports, we have to look very carefully at that balance and make sometimes a judgment that does not please one of the parties.
  (Mr Burr) Another thing our stock-take identified was that we need some more sophisticated guidance on this issue for the people preparing projects, for the people who wanted to contribute to the debate about them, for inspectors and for the people who make the decisions. I know the Committee has noted that we have published a consultation paper proposing a project proposal framework on ports which aims, along the lines of the later framework for road developments, to provide just that kind of template.
  (Mr Jamieson) That template does give an opportunity for all the parties, both those proposing the particular scheme and those people opposed to the scheme, to have a better handle on the issues.

Andrew Bennett

  346. I am puzzled about this planning issue. You just said to the Committee that the present system is working well, as far as ports are concerned. Does that mean that you do not see any of the ports counting as major infrastructure items that Lord Falconer was talking about in wanting to change the planning system?
  (Mr Jamieson) I did not say it was working well; I said we had a planning system that examined the issues, but if you are tempting me I will say that, yes, the planing system works well. It is also very cumbersome. It can be very lengthy. The length of an inquiry does not necessarily reflect the quality of that inquiry. It may be that some of the very large projects may fall into the category that you have mentioned.

  347. If some of them were to fall into that category, it is important that government ministers start off by giving a clear steer, is it not, because what was required was that the government minister would make a decision; Parliament in some process would then approve or disapprove of what the minister said.
  (Mr Jamieson) That is the thrust.

  348. Are you developing a port strategy which is going to say the requirements for the United Kingdom in the next five years are to have one, two, two and a half major port developments?
  (Mr Jamieson) No. We feel that the way in which our ports are developing currently, meeting the market demand, is the proper way forward.

  349. You would not be able to come to Parliament and give a clear indication that something like Dibden Bay, for instance, was part of government policy or not?
  (Mr Burr) I do not think it would be necessary under those procedures for the government necessarily to come forward in such a statement and say, "We have picked these winners" or these losers. We have a national policy statement in Modern Ports. We could develop that statement as we understand the business better, as we get a better handle on demand and so on. It would be going a step further for a minister to sponsor or rubbish—

  350. That was what Lord Falconer was proposing and you are saying to us that, as far as the ports are concerned, it would not come into this category of major infrastructure projects.
  (Mr Burr) The Chairman will rule me out for evasion but the projects that we are talking about have missed those new ideas because they are in the present system. Whether there might be another case, when and if those procedures are in place, would be a matter for discussion when that arose. It may be that the promoter would have a view about whether he would wish his project to be put through that kind of process or whether he would rather the limitations of the present system.

  351. I was trying to get a little bit of light on the government's present port strategy and the government's present policy for changing the planning system.
  (Mr Burr) I am only competent on the first of those. The policy is in the ports policy paper. The strategy does have to recognise the way port projects are funded and the strategy is that we will support sustainable projects for which there is a clear need, but not so far to pick those cases before the merits of the case have been explored.

  352. Is the Competition Act working well as far as ports are concerned?
  (Mr Burr) We have not had any difficulty.

  353. Does it not discourage different companies cooperating together for joint operations?
  (Mr Burr) We have no evidence that that is so, no.

  354. When you were here before, we were told that there were these two bodies for training and safety. They have been united. Has that made a big difference?
  (Mr Reeves) You rightly said there were two bodies previously. The industry has developed an initiative to bring the health and safety and the skills elements together under a single trade organisation which is Port Skills and Safety. That is something which we very much welcome.

Chairman

  355. Is there any evidence as to how it is working?
  (Mr Jamieson) It is rather early days.
  (Mr Burr) They have just about got as far as collecting their first round of subscriptions and appointed some staff. There is a much more overt commitment by senior management in the industry than the predecessor bodies practically enjoyed.

Andrew Bennett

  356. Who is responsible for the Port Marine Safety Code?
  (Mr Burr) I am.

  357. Where is it up to? You were going to review it.
  (Mr Burr) The ports were given until the end of last year to report that they had implemented the systems that the code advocates. The latest stock-take suggests that there is no significant commercial undertaking still outstanding. There are a few small ones some of which were rather late off the mark for various reasons, but there is no significant port undertaking that has not confirmed that they have implemented. Rather than simply accept the letters from them, my branch is now conducting a series of visits to up to a third of the ports who have reported to establish what the quality of that implementation was. The visits we have done so far have been very impressive.

  358. As far as the statistics, you get monthly returns for the serious accidents and fatalities. How are they moving? Are they improving?
  (Mr Burr) This is on dock safety now?

  359. Yes. Port safety generally but particularly dock safety.
  (Mr Burr) The number of fatalities is so far a relief. There has not been a fatality this year. Last year, very unfortunately, we had seven fatalities.


 
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