“I don’t need ports: I get everything I need from Amazon.” This rather alarming ‘quote of the day’ emerged during Arup’s ‘Future of Ports: Port Regeneration’ event held as part of London International Shipping Week.
The comment, made by a teenager and reported by one of the participants, summed up perfectly the need for the ports sector to focus strongly on education and engagement of the public and politicians; and, indeed, these two words emerged again and again during the afternoon of discussions.
Arup’s event, held on Wednesday afternoon, opened with short presentations on port resilience, managing complex assets, port regeneration, energy mix futures and North Sea decommissioning; the participants were then divided into groups for lively workshops focusing on social, technical, economic, environmental and political factors as drivers of change and opportunities for UK ports.
In the social area, environmental concerns, population growth, skills shortages and planning restrictions were highlighted. “Ports seem to be getting strangled by delegated areas such as SCAs. You need to have the science to go back and address the issues. Also, early engagement is vital, so there are no surprises when you do submit your plans,” said the group. Key points included finding ways to use land more efficiently; more development and use of dry ports; portcentric logistics; and responding to emerging markets and new trade streams.
In the environmental area, participants highlighted two big areas of concern and one big area of opportunity. The concerns were increasingly tight statutory controls on air and water quality, noise, etc., which should be balanced by better explain how important ports are for people’s lives and survival; and climate change, with the need to adapt to rising sea levels, more severe storms and tidal surges. The opportunity? Fuel. “The port that gets it right in predicting what the next marine fuel will be will be good at attracting ships.”
Technology areas of focus included the need for deeper and longer berths, changes in energy supply and automation, the latter being expected to have the biggest impact on ports in the future. Participants concluded that the Internet of Things and disruptive technology would have major impacts, and there should be more focus on data sharing, ‘so you know what is coming and you can prepare and plan for it better’. Closer collaboration within the supply chain would be important, ‘so a port isn’t just working on its own in isolation but as a seamless part of the supply chain – and that will be through technology’.
Economic factors focused on the impact of global changes – for example, the drop in China’s demand for Australia’s raw materials, and the ebb and flow of trades to and from the UK.
Finally, politics. The key issue here was public opinion. “Ports and the industry need to engage with the public – not just the local community, but everyone. There is a real need for education.” Secondly, there is a need for better integration of transport systems to serve multimodal facilities, reported the group, and a need for government to priorities the infrastructure that serves the ports.”
The group discussed the benefits of having a political champion but, given the short-term horizons in politics, suggested: “Maybe somewhere out there, there is an industry champion who can champion the ports and industry and pressure government, MEPs, local authorities, etc.”
In the wrap-up, a key point that emerged was the need to enhance coastal shipping – one participant described the UK’s smaller ports as ‘like a string of pearls around the coast of the UK’.
Moderator Chris Luebkeman said: “The quote of the day has to be: ‘I don’t need ports: I get everything I need from Amazon.’ Cities grew up around ports, and yet ports have become an almost ignored asset.”
Lobbying was essential, he said, along with education: “Get into schools and get youngsters aware of shipping and trades that they are just not aware of. “
He threw down the gauntlet to the UK ports sector: “Do you want others to see the industry as back-footed, not wanting to be on the leading edge, or front-footed?”