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British Ports Association: Port growth back on the agenda for 2021

The British Ports Association’s Chief Executive outlines what the agenda for UKports will look like during 2021

The British Ports Association (BPA), which represents 86% of UK port freight activities around the UK, sees the UK’s new trading relationship with the EUbedding in and the mass roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine beginning. However UK ports might well be looking at a different policy agenda by the end of the year. A sustainable growth agenda and promoting the value of ports and their varied activities will be at the heart of the Association’s work over the next 12 months.

Commenting on the year ahead, the BPA’s Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne, said:

”As we move into the New Year, many ports are still dealing with the impacts of coronavirus, in terms of day-to-day port operations and also a revised business environment. The potential for further restrictions and national lockdowns are daunting indeed. However, despite the obvious changes for those operators handling EU freight, 2021 could see a bounce back from the various impacts that affected the UK and global economy last year. In the short term, keeping the industry resilient and ports open could mean getting essential workers at ports up the queue just behind health workers, the clinically vulnerable and the elderly, in terms of the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Moving forward, ports can definitely be part of the solution as the country recovers. The government has been clear about aspirations for it’s ‘levelling up’ agenda which will include a Freeports strategy but we expect to see another stimulus as well. Freeports is just one tool which will only target a limited number of particular locations. We will be encouraging policymakers to look at other mechanisms which will benefit all regions in respect to infrastructure and the regulatory environment.”

Prior to the pandemic, early last year the BPA was expecting sustainability and the energy transition to play a pivotal role across the UK ports sector. However, the impacts of coronavirus drew the focus of the government and industry’s attention elsewhere. A much mooted green recovery is now an attractive proposition for politicians but what they actually might mean for ports is still open for some debate.

Commenting on the green recovery, Mr Ballantyne said:

”From air quality to their environmental footprint, ports are now looking into what they do to support the government’s long term net zero targets. Indeed, changes to UK energy use and a move towards renewable energy generation is definitely something the sector is aligned to and supporting.

We are excited to be recruiting a new sustainability advisor to join the BPA’s existing team to help navigate the environment and energy transition agenda. Included in the sustainability work of the BPA will be a renewed focus on modal shift such as increased rail fright opportunities for certain ports but also, particularly, coastal shipping, which has been neglected as a policy area by the government over the last 10 years.

With the UK’s departure from the EU, there is also an opportunity to have a fresh look at freight support grants which have been woeful in both uptake and allocation in terms of coastal shipping. We will be looking at how, in certain circumstances, options to take goods off congested land routes onto ships can help support the sustainability agenda. Shipping is of course the most environmentally efficient form of freight transport.”

Adding to this Mr Ballantyne talked up what Brexit might mean in terms of the wider regulatory agenda:

”Brexit needs to be much more than the new bureaucratic border controls on much of our trade that have taken up so much attention in the last four years. The UK ports and maritime sector are of course keen to see some tangible benefits but this could mean swift action from the government.

The new regulatory regime means that the UK can now design a policy framework that better enables ports of all type to flourish and grow. This not about ripping up environmental rules or safety standards, but is about looking for ways to create a more responsive framework that enables ports to be agile in attracting new investment and to grow and support jobs and local communities.

As well as speeding up planning rules, there will be opportunities to remove legislation such as the EU Port Services Regulation and also replace sources of infrastructure funding such as TEN-T and fisheries grants so that our regional transport and port infrastructure is competitive.

This year we very much look forward to working with all devolved and levels of government to design an agenda that works for both coastal communities and ports.”