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A trading triumph

Today's ports industry is a national success story

By Simon Bird  

People are often unaware of the central role of UK ports in reporting products ©Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

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Britain is a maritime nation. More than 95 per cent of our trade in goods moves by sea and ports in the north are a key part of that trade, handling around 173m tonnes of cargo a year. The Humber is the UK’s busiest trading estuary with around 30,000 vessel movements every year, linking British businesses to markets across Europe and far beyond and accounting for about half the cargo tonnage that passes through this country’s northern ports. The Humber is also home to the nation’s largest port, Immingham. Across both banks of the river, every year ABP’s ports in the Humber contribute £2.2bn to the national economy, including £1.5bn for the region, and support some 33,000 jobs.

International trade through Britain’s ports helped build the prosperity of great mercantile cities such as Liverpool, which at its height contributed more to the Exchequer than the City of London. As the nation’s manufacturing industries have declined and the economy has become more reliant on services, that critical role has perhaps become obscured from view. But ports are not just the foundations of our past prosperity; they remain the foundations of our future prosperity too. People are often unaware of the central role of ports in exporting products from, for example, the rejuvenated UK car manufacturing industry. And that’s why ports need to be front and centre in fuelling the development of the Northern Powerhouse.

Today’s ports industry is a national success story. But there is, perhaps, another reason why they have faded from the wider national consciousness; ports operate quietly and efficiently, no longer plagued by industrial disputes that are now a distant memory. Over the past five years alone, the industry has attracted more than £2bn of private investment in essential national infrastructure, which has helped to create 55,000 jobs. Ports in the north have led the way with new developments: on the Humber, ABP is delivering record investment in new facilities and infrastructure, totalling almost £1bn between 2015 and 2020. One example is the Immingham Renewable Fuels Terminal to handle biomass for power generation. This particular investment underlines the essential role that ports in the north have in keeping the nation’s lights on. Biomass at Immingham, for instance, flows through to the Drax power station which generates 7-8 per cent of Britain’s electricity. Also, in the Port of Hull, ABP and Siemens are investing £310m to create a new offshore wind manufacturing facility, a project that will further cement the Humber’s role as the nation’s Energy Estuary.

The development of wind turbine manufacturing in Hull demonstrates how ports can play an important role in helping to rebalance the economy. And it doesn’t have to be based on renewable energy or other marine-related activity. Many ports in the north have large areas of land, often post-industrial, which is primed for development and can be used for any type of manufacturing. Large areas of land that benefit from

deep water access can serve as ideal locations for the import of raw materials and components and the export of any finished product.

The potential of ports to fuel growth in the north is not only based upon their capacity to promote trade by providing critical access to global markets; it also rests with their ability to serve as major new manufacturing hubs. The Northern Powerhouse can provide a game-changing opportunity to maximise this potential. This will require a commitment to invest in road and rail connections to ports, meeting the needs of businesses across the north and the nation as a whole. It will also require a co-ordinated effort from both the public and private sectors to promote ports as ideal locations for inward investment on the global stage, perhaps complimented by the progressive development of new and innovative incentives.

Ports on the Humber and across the north are fundamentally important to the north’s economy and they are fundamentally important to the success of the Northern Powerhouse; we are ready to play our part in delivering that success.


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