Northern ports tempt shippers away from Dover after migrant crisis
Traffic to Dover fell during the first half of the year due to disruption caused by the migrant crisis (C) John Miller/Alamy Ports outside the south-east have benefited from disruption at Dover, helping them to win a greater share of Britain’s growing container and vehicle trade. Northern ports have been selling the benefits of avoiding the congested roads of the south-east and investing in infrastructure just as some hauliers sought alternatives to Dover, hit by the migrant crisis.
The cross-channel route has been declared secure a month after the demolition of the “Jungle” refugee camp and freight traffic is growing again. But government figures for the first half of the year show a drop at Dover as traffic was displaced. Harwich and Felixstowe, the big south-east container ports, also lost traffic to London Gateway, which is expanding fast.
Grimsby and Immingham overtook Southampton to become the third busiest port for vehicles and containers, although the latter also grew. The provisional figures include passenger vehicles, vehicle imports and exports, as well as the containers that can arrive by lorry or rail (known as Lolo and Ro-ro). Volumes nationally were 1 per cent higher in the three months to the end of June compared with the same period last year.
But Grimsby and Immingham were up 5.5 per cent and Teesport 12 per cent. Liverpool grew almost 6 per cent and Bristol 23 per cent, mainly driven by car exports and imports. Dover fell 3.7 per cent but still has a fifth of the market.
Felixstowe, which fell slightly, is second with 10.6 per cent while Grimsby and Immingham have 8.8 per cent.
Peter Baker, of PRB Associates, a transport consultancy, said: “There has been a shift going on. Since the disruption in Dover people have been looking for an alternative to add some resilience to their supply chain. Capacity on northern routes is getting better utilised and some are adding capacity.”
He said Dover was still favoured because of its nonstop, round-the-clock operation. There is also a choice between the sea and the Channel tunnel. Many northern routes, typically to the Netherlands and Belgium, have just one sailing a day in each direction.
However, he said that between 2014 and 2016 RoRo and Lolo freight capacity across the North Sea increased 6 per cent. Most traffic comes on giant ships from Asia and stops at Hamburg or Rotterdam and then south-east England. So 90 per cent of containers from deep-sea crossings enter the UK through the south, but more than half their cargo travels north of Birmingham.
Teesport said its growth was down to a number of factors including more containers from eastern Europe and the Baltic region. “Teesport is the UK’s best connected feeder port with 25 vessel calls per week,” it said. “There has been an upsurge in manufacturing in Europe as opposed to Asia, and with our strong connections with Europe it is easier for businesses to look at Teesport as a port of entry to the UK for these goods.” It warned that its rail routes were nearing capacity.
Geoff Lipitt, development director of its operator, PD Ports, said: “As an industry we still face significant challenges that could potentially hold back future progress if existing issues of inadequate UK rail infrastructure and limited capacity aren’t tackled.” Immingham has begun a ?16m railway upgrade. The line to Doncaster is being modified to enable it to carry larger “high cube” containers.
Nissan’s recent announcement of new models for its Sunderland plant was a fillip for the Port of Tyne, which handles about 600,000 cars a year, mostly Nissans for export. The Tyne has also benefited from trainmaking in County Durham by Japanese-owned Hitachi. By about 2020 more than 50 per cent of containers arriving at UK ports will be high cubes, which are 9ft 6in high, a foot more than standard containers.
The project requires raising bridges and adjusting some platforms as well as new rails.
New ?400m container terminal aims to dominate shipping trade with the Americas
Other ports are also investing. Liverpool this month opened a ?400m deep water quay that can handle the biggest ships in the world. It has been winning some container traffic from other UK ports, principally from the US, Canada and Latin America. But it has also persuaded some northern importers to switch traffic there.
Bristol plans a ?600m deep-sea terminal and Dover itself is spending ?250m on its Western docks to provide better freight facilities. Dover said that, while some passengers had been put off by the refugee crisis, freight traffic had held steady and it increased by 3 per cent in the third quarter of 2016. DFDS, the Danish shipper that is one of the biggest serving the UK, said freight traffic was up 17 per cent across the Channel, North Sea and Baltic Sea in the third quarter compared with the year before.
It has added two ships on its Dover routes, which grew 30 per cent.
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- ^ Northern ports (www.ft.com)
- ^ the “Jungle” refugee camp (www.ft.com)
- ^ government figures (www.gov.uk)
- ^ Grimsby and Immingham (www.ft.com)
- ^ Immingham has begun a ?16m railway (www.humberlep.org)
- ^ Liverpool this (www.ft.com)
- ^ DFDS (markets.ft.com)
- ^ Brexit (www.ft.com)