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The Future of Freight and the Impact on Passenger Ferries.

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Having listened to and read about all of the potential political ramifications of the referendum and the continuing negative stance toward border problems I thought I'd take a look at what many of the UK's major ports have planned for the continued fluidity of our imports and exports and the impact their expansions will have, or in many cases are already having,  on cross channel and North Sea ferry routes.

For the past five years there has been a distinct shift in focus made by manufacturers both here and abroad toward cheaper and slower passage across the seas of their non perishable goods. Many are now looking toward more purpose built port and distribution facilities rather than the one port fits all approach.

Firstly the South East. 

Immingham has seen a massive increase in freight since 2013 which has prompted a £50 million expansion. In 2013 the port handled 68,000 units, in 2017 that figure had risen to 183,000 and is due to rise to nearly 245,000 by 2020.

This increase is due in no small part by the continuing growth and construction of regional distribution centres along the M1 and M62 corridors. They are now looking toward the Humber as their gateway.

A real shift in trade volumes had been noticed with cargo originally destined for ports such as Dover now increasingly moving northward as their partners are looking at realistic alternatives in a plan to mitigate any difficulty the UK's more traditional routes may begin to experience.

So then let's look at Dover. A port which it was argued had reached saturation point in the late 1970's, an argument Michael Kingshott  won when Thanet District Council gave Sally (UK) a 90 year agreement to operate ferry services from Ramsgate.

Dover are expanding, a drone film clip on Youtube shows by how much. DWDR or Dover Western Docks Revival, will deliver a new look waterfront, marina, pier, shops, cafes and restaurants but more crucially the relocation and increased development of freight with a brand new freight terminal and distribution centre. Dedicated RoRo shipping rather than transportation aboard the RoPax ferries of P&O and DFDS.


This tidily brings on the €675 million expansion at Port of Calais which will be achieved in two phases concluding in 2021. There will be a new 3.2 km breakwater to protect the port from harsh weather and high waves. Three new ferry piers able to service 240 metre long  RoRo and RoPax ferries bringing the total to eight linkspans. Ten new bridges and again a dedicated freight receiving and distribution terminal which just as in Dover will see freight traffic divert from passenger ferries.

It's worth noting that Calais aren't just a ferryport, they have facilities for Panamax ships and after phase two will be capable of welcoming Capesize freighters.

Chilled distribution specialists NFT will play a large part. They have invested £25 million building a new state of the art distribution centre which in itself has the capacity to handle 70% of all of the South East's perishable imports and exports. 

When just considering this triumvirate it's quite easy to see why freight has and will continue to drop on the half hourly sailings across the Strait. When taken into context with Immingham and the so far unmentioned £1 billion expansion at Tilbury it's even easier to see where the liquid bulk and dry cargo is destined to be shipped from especially as hauliers and manufacturers won't be paying the premium prices for 24 hour service across the channel where many trailers are left on port hard standing until retrieved.

The western channel routes are different, only Southampton are showing any signs of expansion.

After working closely with companies such as BMW this month the port has announced a new £15 million multi deck vehicle storage facility giving them a further 3000 vehicle spaces. This will be the eighth and will cement Southampton's place as one of worlds global automotive hubs.

ABP have also secured Eling Wharf, a 41 acre site  in Totton originally earmarked for retail and residential properties until talks between Bob Boulton Holdings and New Forest District Council broke down.

ABP plan a freight terminal for vessels capable of serving ports such as Bilbao, Zeebrugge and Amsterdam.

Overall the reason for the fall in dry cargo and liquid bulk transportation across the channel by ferry operators isn't an economic one, if anything volumes are increasing. The manufacturers and distributors of these non perishable goods are simply choosing to exploit new opportunities at dedicated centres and ports who now have capacity rather than opt for the rapid higher premium spaces aboard ferries which doesn't realistically suit their business model.

Many of us talk about a ferry companies need for freight when in all reality it only makes up 15% of vehicle movements out of the Western channel ports, 85% is passenger traffic having more space for these together with increased space for time sensitive perishable goods is the market ferry companies excel in and can exploit further.

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Thanks for this, jonno; very interesting. 

What are the prospects for diversification on the other side of the Channel, away from Calais?  I recall UK government ministers, several weeks ago, urging freight hauliers and operators to use other ports as an alternative to Calais, presumably Belgian and Dutch ports.  I heard that some development is being made at Rotterdam, but generally I imagine the new facilities at Calais will make diversification to other ports less likely?

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