Andrew Harston, ABP’s Short Sea Ports Director, outlines how ABP’s nationwide network of 11 Short Sea Ports are boosting the UK economy.
Superstore or local convenience shop? The answer is, of course – both. And it’s the same in the ports world, where one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Yes, there are giants like Immingham and Southampton. But just as important in the mix are ABP’s 11 Short Sea Ports – strategically located and perfectly resourced for the very specific range of businesses they handle.
As ABP’s Short Sea Ports Director, Andrew Harston, points out: added together, these 11 ports contribute more than £1 billion of added value to the UK economy every year. “That’s the same as Southampton, but in 11 pockets around the country.”
Is it patronising to describe them as ‘local’ ports? He thinks not. “Of course, all of our ports are at the heart of their communities. But our Short Sea Ports have a particularly crucial role in the success of the communities they serve.
“Take Silloth. It’s a very small northwest Cumbrian town and one of the largest employers there is Carr’s flour mill, which is entirely dependent on the grain coming through ABP Silloth. The port’s other customers are Origin Fertilisers, Harrison Construction and Prime Molasses. All of that tonnage is going within five miles of the port.”
Barrow is home to BAE Systems, and its importance in supporting the UK’s nuclear submarine programme simply can’t be overstated.
On the opposite side of the country, ABP Ipswich sits on the doorstep of East Anglia’s agricultural heartlands, and has held the position of the UK’s top grain export port since 2003.
“The economy we are supporting there is so important – Ipswich remains the major outlet for East Anglia’s farmers, handling in excess of 1m tonnes of agricultural exports,” says Andrew. “The port is also handling fertiliser and other imports which support the growing of these crops. And going forward, we will see that open up even more in terms of the ship sizes we handle out of Ipswich – by working closely with our customers, the harbour master and pilots, we are now regularly handling 13,000 tonne export cargoes, in addition to our more routine 4-6,000 tonnes.
Back in the northwest, ABP Barrow is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Barrow is home to BAE Systems, and its importance in supporting the UK’s nuclear submarine programme simply can’t be overstated. In short – no port, no subs. And with the next generation of submarines now confirmed, thousands of jobs, and the port’s future, are secured at least into the 2030s or 2040s. That’s in addition to other important customers such as INS, Centrica and a number of windfarm-related O&M (operations and maintenance) facilities.
Dong Energy is busy developing its support facilities at Barrow for the Walney Extension renewable energy project, construction of which will begin early in 2018.
Further south, ABP Garston continues to compete successfully as an ‘independent beacon’ on the Mersey, says Andrew.
ABP has invested £7m in the port in the past three years, to provide 40,000 sq ft of new warehousing and a Mantsinen materials handling crane, the largest of its type in the world, as well as installing new lock gates. Similar cranes have been purchased for Ipswich, King’s Lynn and Teignmouth within Short Sea Ports, as well as a fifth crane based at Swansea.
“In Garston, the crane has delivered significantly improved productivity together with a 40% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions,” says Andrew. A number of the Short Sea Ports are playing a vital role in supporting the construction, installation and ongoing operations of some of the UK’s largest offshore windfarms.
For example, ABP Lowestoft is very much focused on offshore renewables. Scottish and Southern’s O&M (operations and maintenance) base has been at the port since 2013, generating around 150 jobs. RWE Innogy is already a partner with SSE in the Greater Gabbard windfarm, which is controlled from Lowestoft, and the construction of its Galloper extension is supported from the port. Lowestoft has also been selected as the O&M location for Scottish Power Renewables’ East Anglia ONE and is keenly watching the progress of further schemes such as EA Three and other East Anglia Array projects, with a view to further growing the renewables sector.
Elsewhere, ABP is working with local stakeholders in Fleetwood to develop the port’s future role in leisure and portrelated developments; ABP Teignmouth continues to be a thriving agribulks port and is benefiting from the Harbour Commissioner’s project to deepen the access channel, handling shipments of clay exports and animal feed imports up to 4,000 tonnes; ABP Plymouth continues to work closely with Brittany Ferries, as well as with the city council on the 2020 Mayflower 400-year celebrations; ABP has invested £700,000 in a new pilot launch for the Scottish ports of Ayr and Troon; and construction of a new bulk store at King’s Lynn is nearing completion.
And community involvement continues. All 11 Short Sea Ports came together to raise money on Red Nose Day. Tidy Friday sees groups of employees, management and customers regularly donning overalls to do litter picking around the ports. Visitors are welcomed, from local schools and societies, and local events are supported and sponsored.
“We welcome visitors as an opportunity to build a greater appreciation of a modern port. People do often take their local port for granted because it has been in the centre of the town for so long,” says Andrew. “We are keen to explain what we do and how we might have to do things differently. We are determined to be good neighbours, taking the concerns and ambitions of local residents into account. We focus on doing things well – professionally, responsibly and sustainably.”
Yes, ABP’s Short Sea Ports are on the doorsteps of customers, but nothing can be taken for granted. “We don’t make anything; we only ever provide a service to our customers, so we are as good or as bad as our last ship.
“We only survive by providing a very good service, through strong local relationships and by understanding the needs of our customers and stakeholders. And if something doesn’t go quite right – then I hope that we learn from our mistakes, and we move on.”