Freight News, Sea

North and South unite to push ports industry

[ July 20, 2012   //   ]

Taken as a whole, the Humber is the UK’s biggest port complex in tonnage terms – but the north and south banks of the estuary have not always pulled together, says Bill Walker, the interim chair of HumberPort. “There have been years of North versus South bank,” says Mr Walker, who is also director of enterprise and knowledge exchange at the University of Hull.
The old county of Humberside – which unified the two banks of the river for a couple of decades – was abolished several years ago, but the business argument for unity has always been a sound one, Bill Walker contends.

What is different about HumberPort, he says, is that it is led and funded by business, not the public sector: “Most of the previous attempts to pull together were publicly-funded and involved local authorities. They tended to get public money – which then ran out.”
Involving businesses also helps to take the politics out of the process, explains Mr Walker. “Businesses needed to feel ownership of the process, so we we ended up creating HumberPort here in the University.” All the big players of the local freight and shipping industry are included, such as ABP, Able UK, P&O Ferrymasters, DFDS, Danbrit, North Sea RoRo and East Trans.

HumberPort’s ultimate aim, he says, is to ensure that the Humber economy benefits from the huge volumes of freight that flow through it every day. While other areas of the country such as Teesside have reaped the rewards of the move to Port Centric distribution, this revolution has largely passed Humberside by – at least so far. There are a few companies with major logistics operations in the area, such Arco, Reckitt & Coleman and Smith & Nephew but these are old-established Humberside firms; with the exception of B&Q, scarcely any firms from outside the area have chosen to locate major distribution centres in the region.
Doncaster, about 50 miles away, has in contrast turned itself into a major distribution hub, as companies sought alternatives to high rents in the Midlands ‘Golden Triangle’ area – but there is no reason why Humberside shouldn’t be able to emulate this. After all, the place is slap bang in the middle of the country, a factor that Bill Walker feels has been underplayed in the past.

What has been lacking, Walker believes, has been the political and economical will to make things happen, as exemplified by Teesport. “There, it was the supply chain of big retailers like Tesco that drove it. But there’s no reason why the same thing couldn’t happen in Humberside.”
Head of economic development at Hull City Council Mark Jones says: “we’re entirely supportive of HumberPort.” It’s a way of getting the Humber as a whole onto the global radar in a way that might be harder for its component parts. The Humber, he says, could emulate organisations like the Port of Rotterdam Promotion Council or the Assiport organisation that performs a similar function in Antwerp.
It would also be an opportunity to align the existing strong relationships – between Hull and Rotterdam, for example – with the wider Humber estuary. The different ports and enterprises on the Humber would also be able to market themselves under a single banner. Hull already has strong existing links with Rotterdam, Zeebrugge, Iceland and Poland; these could be used for the wider benefit of Humberside as a whole.

The first task, Mark Jones says, “is internal marketing within the Humber. We have a strong nucleus of companies now but we need to get others on board” – not just companies from the ports and logistics sector but the wider business and industrial community on Humberside.
Major industries in the region include chemicals and petrochemicals, oil refining, power generation, healthcare and the food sector. The Humber is surrounded on one side by the sea and the other by green fields, so there are plenty of food processors in Grimsby, for example. Another important industry is caravan manufacture, which was badly hit by the crisis but has now been revived thanks to local financing initiatives which has helped many manufacturers get back on their feet again.
The region was hit by the banking and credit crisis in 2008, says Mark Jones. While there are tentative signs of recovery, ultimately this depends on the still fragile and unpredictable European economy. “However, trade through the port is holding up well,” Mark Jones says.
The trick now is to try and ensure that some of the business that passes through the port creates added value activity and hence jobs in the local economy. “A lot of it does, in the chemical and petrochemical industry, but we could always do more,” Mark Jones explains.

Hull itself is awaiting the outcome of the plans by Siemens to build a wind turbine assembly plant in the local port. Mr Jones says that a final decision on whether the scheme, which could create 740 jobs in itself plus many others in the supply chain, is expected later thus year. “We’re hopeful, but I don’t have many fingernails left.”

For more information on HumberPort go to

To read the full FBJ Humber feature go to FBJ Humber Feature


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