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Release ID: 4600

UK freight forwarders express concerns over National Ports Policy

The British International Freight Association (BIFA), the trade association for UK freight forwarders, has expressed its support for MPs who this week criticised the draft National Policy Statement on ports as ‘not fit for purpose’ and shared their call for major changes.

Peter Quantrill, BIFA Director General says: “Britain is at a tipping point in terms of its sea port framework and there is a danger of valuable shipping activity being lost to near continent rivals.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) issued its draft National Policy Statement on Ports (NPS) and invited responses to its proposals late last year. BIFA’s main concern remains that certain elements of the NPS could disadvantage the UK and may contribute to trade moving abroad.

BIFA recognises that concern for the possible implications of the NPS is wider than the immediate freight forwarding and shipping sector and notes that The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)has also been critical.

Quantrill adds: “BIFA has expressed its concern that if the NPS puts additional hurdles in the path of UK port expansion that could drive more vessels to the welcoming arms of ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam to load and discharge their cargoes.

“Under the draft Statement, non-business issues such as the impact on the environment, national security and historic buildings/wrecks have to be considered when an application for port development is made. The concern is that the NPS, in both tone and content, fails to place sufficient emphasis on business issues.

“BIFA supports the general concept of the free market providing sufficient capacity, but is concerned that no mechanism is in place either to monitor whether this aim is being achieved, or to encourage its attainment if a capacity shortfall is identified.

“It is of the utmost importance that deep sea ocean shipping lines continue to call direct at UK ports, if they do not the danger is that freight will be discharged on the continent. Regardless of how the goods are finally delivered to the UK, the extra handling would increase costs and cause delays.”

The NPS states that the UK Government expects that infrastructure improvements such as better road or rail links related to port expansion will be funded in part by the port operator, thus increasing their costs. This places the UK at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the EU, where such infrastructure improvements are state funded, a point already publicly made by the CBI. The danger must be that within a highly competitive Western European port industry that operators will choose to expand these continental ports in preference to their UK operations.

Mr Quantrill concludes: “BIFA knows that it is essential for the long term prosperity of both UK plc and the freight forwarding industry to ensure that there is an effective and efficient port industry in place. Unfortunately we consider the draft NPS in its current format does not adequately address the issues faced by our members.”

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