Simon Bird, ABP Humber ports director discusses how improved transport links have the potential to unlock additional trade on the Humber.
In the summer, the Department for Transport published the annual statistics on the UK’s major ports, which confirmed that the Port of Immingham in the Humber has extended its lead as the nation’s largest port by tonnage. In fact, the Humber ports combined are the biggest port complex in the UK by a factor of two.
Given that coal usage has declined sharply in recent years, the continued growth in trade volumes in the Humber represents a considerable achievement. In 2013, the Port of Immingham handled 16 million tonnes of coal at the height of coal imports, but that had dropped to 4 million tonnes by 2017. To keep growing in that context has involved considerable diversification and now being involved in so many parts of the economy means that the Humber is a strong indicator of how UK trade is performing.
The Humber ports combined are the biggest port complex in the UK by a factor of two.
The Humber ports handle steel, timber, cars, animal feed, fertilisers, food products, building aggregates and many other cargoes. In addition, energy is big business, with 10% of the UK’s energy being supplied with resources handled in the Humber ports, with biomass and coal going to power stations, oil to refineries and a growing interest in offshore wind.
By far the biggest growth, however, is in shipping containers. Containers touch just about every part of the economy and, across the Humber, container volumes grew by 16% between 2016 and 2017. ABP has just announced a new £36 million investment to expand the container terminal in Immingham, increasing the capacity to meet growing demand. Container volumes have been growing every year since 2013. The growth is, in part, due to the rise in the number of regional distribution centres across the M1/M62 corridor, which look to the Humber ports as their gateway to trade.
A shift in trade volumes has also been noticed, with cargoes originally destined for southern ports, such as Dover, moving increasingly north as trade partners look at alternatives to mitigate any difficulties the more traditional routes may experience in the future. This is good news for the Yorkshire and Humber region as recent economic impact assessment figures suggest that, whilst the Humber ports support around 35,000 jobs, they also contribute £2.5 billion to the economy, much of which is retained in the region.
There is a well-established benefit to improving access to ports by moving freight by rail, not just in terms of the economy but in environmental terms as well. Plans by Network Rail, working with the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership to invest in enhancing the rail gauge to the Port of Immingham, are very welcome and it is important that it happens on schedule so that, in the course of the coming years, the UK’s largest port by tonnage can expand the offer it gives for using rail freight.
It is an especially exciting prospect to consider the possibility of connecting the container terminals in the Humber to major regional distribution centres in South Yorkshire. If that opportunity is seized, in future years the statistics will not just show Immingham as the largest port in the UK, but one of the largest and most important in Europe, which can only benefit the economy across the North of England.