Felixstowe: Port faces battle to hang onto customers as rival gears up to open

EXECUTIVES at the Port of Felixstowe are today bracing themselves for some tough bargaining to hang onto their biggest customers amid attempts to attract them to a rival port.

They say the massive new London Gateway development will be the “biggest threat” to Felixstowe for years.

With London Gateway set to open in less than two years’ time, bosses at Felixstowe’s owners Hutchison Ports UK know the new port will be desperately wanting trade – and targeting their business.

It was given the go-ahead to help cope with the demand for extra quayside capacity in the UK, but in a worldwide recession there is not an over-capacity of business waiting to take up the space.

Even if shipping companies do not leave, they will be seeking to drive down container-handling rates as they get cheaper offers from the new port.

Andrew Harston, development director for Hutchison Ports UK, said Felixstowe was still the UK’s biggest container port by some margin thanks to tremendous work over the past year and the opening of the new �250 million extension.

However, the competitive landscape was changing with work under way on London Gateway and the developers saying it would open in the fourth quarter of 2013.

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“London Gateway will be the biggest threat we have seen to our business for many years,” said Mr Harston.

He told the annual port community reception that the port was analysing the way forward and would be offering its customers the best possible service, focusing on Felixstowe’s advantages, though no-one should fool themselves into thinking it will be an easy task.

“We are better located and closer to the main shipping lanes than they are, and we have better rail connections and our customers don’t have to battle through the congestion of the M25 to get anywhere,” he said.

However, the provision of a giant warehouse and logistics park at the Essex port could have a large impact as this was an area in which Felixstowe was weak.

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