A new report from law firm, Brabners says operations such as the Port of Liverpool can only reach their full promise through substantial transport infrastructure investment and a new east-west rail connection across the north of England is crucial to the success of the Port’s efforts to transform the UK logistics sector.
Liverpool based law firm, Brabners claims the north of England risks falling even further behind the south, in terms of economic growth, without private sector and government investment in freight-readiness for rail and increased road capacity.
In its report: Supply Chain: The Future of the North, Brabners urged logistics operators, manufacturers, and retailers in the north to lobby both devolved and central powers to make sure future infrastructure investment in the region isn’t delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Peel Ports, owner of the Port of Liverpool has invested £750m in the Liverpool2 facility, improvements which enable it to handle 95% of the world’s largest container vessels. Over the past few decades, the greater part of the UK’s imports have entered through southern ports such as Southampton, Felixstowe, and Tilbury, with goods then transported by road to logistics hubs in the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland. However, over the past 12 months, Peel Ports has also been successful in persuading an increasing number of freight operators to switch to Liverpool from southern ports.
Peel says this landing in the south is an inefficient way of moving goods to the north and has promoted heavily, Liverpool as a viable alternative.
With the UK on the verge of a new trade deal with America, the Port of Liverpool has an excellent opportunity to claim back its status as the gateway to Britain.
The port however, is being held back from maximising its potential through the lack of investment in transport infrastructure across the north of England, a £39bn Northern Powerhouse rail plan with a high-speed, east-west rail link, would be seen as transformational.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were concerns that not enough progress was being made on rail infrastructure, with the think tank, IPPR North, stating that transport spending in the region per head represents only 25% of the amount that is spent in London, and considerably less than across the south as a whole.
Now there are worries that the economic impact of coronavirus may slow the speed of investment even further, and would have a substantial knock-on effect for the growth potential of the region’s key export industries: tech, pharmaceuticals and automotive manufacturing.
Brabners’ report, which includes contributions from key regional investor, Peel Group as well as major frontline companies such as leading international metal recycler, EMR and food distributor NWF Group, identifies a lack of an east-west rail link as a major obstacle to business growth.
With road transportation remaining the most affordable, but also a more congested, approach to moving goods, the report calls for enhanced loading gauges on trans-Pennine rail routes, as this type of investment would increase the cosy-viability of freight transported by rail as well as reduce the carbon footprint of goods that normally travel by road.
Gary Hodgson, managing director (port logistics) at Peel Ports, in the report, writes, “There is accelerated interest in the North as an access point to the wider UK and this is set to fuel further growth in the decade ahead. Investment is critical if we are to deliver on the region’s ambitions and ensure any increase in international trade is properly supported. Putting the point of arrival and departure to one side, there are still significant hurdles to overcome so businesses can ship products closer to their end destination, create shorter supply chains and, ultimately, reduce the costs and carbon emissions associated with moving international goods. To do this, we need to work in partnership with local and national authorities to look at effective road and rail interventions that ultimately lead to better productivity and therefore reduce the cost of inland travel – whether by road or rail. The Port of Liverpool’s own private rail network has the capacity to support 20 trains per day. Current demand sees up to 10 trains from our Bootle rail terminal each day. It’s my hope that, in years to come, we will be talking about trains destined on a clear route to the east coast having filled that capacity. If we wait too long though, it’s clear that opportunities will have been missed.”
Richard Whiting, chief executive of NWF, added, “We’re encouraging European manufacturers to reroute their goods to Liverpool and that is gaining momentum but the port is still under-utilised because most food importers see the South East as the centre of economic activity in the UK.”
And Roy Barry, head of manufacturing and supply chain at Brabners, said, “It’s clear that much of the lifeblood of the North lies in its ports, airports, industrial estates, distribution parks and the arterial routes that serve them. As such, much more needs to be done to make the region’s freight and logistics infrastructure fit for purpose and ready for growth .While we welcome the new deal recovery plans announced by Boris Johnson, they must translate into an equitable distribution of support measures that directly benefit the regional economy.”
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