British Ports Association responds to the Budget

Commenting on today’s Budget Statement, the British Ports Association’s Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne said:

“There were a few announcements of interest in today’s Budget, particularly in relation to infrastructure, regional growth, oil & gas and decommissioning, exports, fisheries, fuel duty, housing and skills, but probably of most interest are the statements on road investment. In his statement the Chancellor committed £28bn funding for roads between 2020-25. Transport investment is important to ports, who rely particularly on roads to connect them to their traders and markets as well as importing some of the materials needed to build them. However it remains unclear if the investment will directly benefit the links to ports themselves.”

With very few exceptions the vast majority of UK port infrastructure investments are privately financed. Port investments are market-led and at present the BPA estimates that somewhere in the region of £1.7bn worth of port projects will be undertaken in the next few years. In terms of infrastructure, ports ask for very little from the Government, however they do rely on a stable economic and policy framework, an efficient planning system and a modern transport infrastructure. The latter area is subject to sometimes competing demands, for example between passenger and freight-based projects, and especially budget constraints. Mr Ballantyne suggested:

“One of our key requests from Government is around increasing public transport investment to help the UK ports and logistics industries compete with international competitors and drive regional economies. Most freight is transported on road and investment in our strategic trunk road network and the links to ports is a must. Earlier this year the Department for Transport published a comprehensive Port Connectivity Study in England. It will be important that this initiative is backed up with investment and that ports feature when spending decisions are made on future rounds of the Road Investment Strategy.”

The BPA has been pressing for regional investment and is keen to see port areas classified as port enterprise and development zones to stimulate coastal growth. Mr Ballantyne also highlight that the BPA was keen that ports become more of a feature in investment decisions as well as other progressive concepts:

“We have been pressing for increased business and planning stimulus for areas around ports to encourage coastal businesses and growth similar, in part to some of the measures announced for high streets and smaller businesses. The new City Deals will certainly be welcomed by ports within those locations but elsewhere there should also be mechanisms for Government to allocate additional funding to regional transport schemes such as through Local Enterprise Partnerships. Additionally we welcome the new resource for the National Roads Fund. This money will be channelled through Local Authorities but would like to see this suitably targeted to improve regional networks that serve ports. We are also keen to see increased water freight financial stimulus to encourage more coastal shipping, which itself can contribute to easing congestion and minimising the environmental impacts of freight transport.”

Finally on Brexit Mr Ballantyne continued:

“We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement to allocate a further £2bn on Brexit planning. However it remains unclear if this will be used to ensure the adequate preparation of borders staff and facilities that may be required for potential new frontier requirements, either at or close to our ports. Finally we note with interest the rather ominous commitment to upgrade the Spring Statement should a ‘no deal’ Brexit outcome materialise.”