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Editorial – Time for Action to Reduce Port Congestion

Posted on November 17, 2016

Some years ago, when Members of Parliament asked for more information on the use of inland waterways and coastal shipping, the then chairman of the industry lobby group “Freight by Water” responded.

“We need to raise the profile of the water options for freight in this country – the coast, rivers and inland waterways such as the canals.

“We are under – using them and they are available at little extra cost.

“For example you can build a new motorway at millions of pounds per mile, whereas we have a coastal motorway that is there now.

“We have over 100 ports, so let’s use them to greater effect. We need to get more container journeys off the road and on to water, so we anticipate growing coastal distribution of containers.”

Subsequently, speaking at a Freight by Water seminar, the UK Shipping Minister at that time gave an assurance that the government continues to be committed to boosting British coastal and inland waterways as part of a strategy to cut carbon emissions from transport and he sought more research into alternatives to road transport.

Indeed, the minister stated categorically “We would like to see more freight transferred to water”

Throughout mainland European ports the use of barges/small coasting vessels to transport containers from the ship’ side to inland destinations is commonplace but, in the United Kingdom, there is considerable resistance to this and although it is deemed to be cheaper and faster to move the container by road transport the cost estimate ignores the very significant costs of wear and tear on the roads and the cost of delays (and inconvenience) caused to other road users.

Motorists using the M3, M25 or A34 –to mention but a few – will be aware of the huge number of lorries transporting a single container from the discharge port to its inland destination.

During the earlier Dibden Bay controversy much was made of the impact that such a development would have on local traffic conditions with terrifying forecasts of the number of container lorries per hour adding to atmospheric pollution and to the already chaotic road conditions in the approaches to the New Forest and beyond.

Container carriers, like passenger carrying ships, will continue to grow in size and undoubtedly this will result in even deeper draughts when fully laden.

The cost of the maintenance dredging needed to permit the 24/7 operation of these huge ships will be horrific.

An aerial view of the Port of Southampton shows that if the port is to expand then the most logical site for any such worthwhile expansion is Dibden Bay. Indeed, over many years millions of cubic metres of the “spoil” accumulated during the dredging of the Solent and approaches have been deliberately deposited there to build up a foundation for the proposed docks development.

Undoubtedly, the traffic problem (in an area where atmospheric contamination is already greatly in excess of the national average) presents the greatest challenge and so, IF the Port of Southampton is to enjoy the expansion so essential to the local economy then, almost certainly, a more innovative approach is needed. The only way is to reduce vehicular traffic by replacing it with seaborne traffic.

What if many of the containers presently being sent by road from the container port to their ultimate destinations throughout the United Kingdom, were to be loaded on to barges at the container port, sent the short distance across the water from there to Dibden Bay, and re-loaded on to smaller “short sea” vessels for delivery to many of the small ports around the United Kingdom (and mainland Europe)?

Many of these small ports would enjoy a rejuvenation of immense value to them and their environment, the Waterside would no longer be subject to the threat of increased traffic congestion and increased pollution, the country would see a welcome reduction in wear and tear on roadsurfaces and a much improved traffic flow.

The shallow(er) draught vessels would also reduce the need for expensive initial and maintenance dredging.

It has even been suggested that empty or light boxes might cross the short stretch of water suspended from a continuous overhead wire gantry for almost direct delivery to the smaller ships.

The scope for innovation is immense – and the time for action is NOW.

Source: Daily Echo

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