‘We can make it happen quickly’- Port of Ipswich open for business and hoping to benefit from Brexit trade shake-up
- Credit: Archant
If Brexit results in delays at Dover, Ipswich is ideally placed to support shipping companies, says port manager.
A lot of trade already passes through the Port of Ipswich - in 2017 it received 649 ships, the year before 743 - but the port’s operator ABP (Associated British Ports) is always looking to boost business. And with the uncertainties that Brexit has thrown up, it believes it has an opportunity to attract commercial shipping operators concerned that the main ports into the UK may be compromised by our departure from the EU.
Of chief concern is the giant port of Dover, which currently handles 40m tonnes of trade goods annually compared to the 3m tonnes of cargo that passes through Ipswich each year. But there are fears that Dover lacks the available land to be able to expand in order to handle extra capacity after Brexit and ABP says Ipswich is ideally situated to be a viable alternative destination.
Port of Ipswich manager, Paul Ager said: “Dover is a busy port and no-one is quite sure what Brexit will mean in terms of hold-ups and delays. Some of the concerns are about each vehicle taking an extra 15 to 20 minutes to get through. If you multiple that by the significant amount of cargo that comes through Dover it starts to mount up.
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He added: “If we can be a part of any solution to this, we’d be delighted.
“We’ve [ABP] been taking to the Department for Transport for a long time now about options across all of our ports - as well as Ipswich, ABP has 20 other ports, including ports on the Humber, south Wales and Plymouth that do lots of railroad, so its understanding what we can do across the business.”
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Mr Ager said ABP has published a Brexit Resilience brochure and that its commercial team has already had enquiries from shipping operators
He continued: “We’ve known about Brexit for a while now and there’s an assumption that businesses have been planning and that they have the answers - but it depends which business you talk to, to what answer you get.
“We know of customers who have brought lots of stock because they aren’t sure what is happening, so they have taken up loads of additional storage space in our business and in other areas such as consumer retail.
“Other customers are bringing in less and opting to have cash in the bank for the time being.
“I think as we get nearer [Brexit], we can expect the level of interest to increase”
While the much larger Port of Felixstowe down the road handles predominantly container ships arriving from around the world, the Port of Ipswich typically deals with open bulk ships arriving from EU destinations where cargo is lifted from vessels using quayside cranes.
The port is confined to a certain extent by being on a river where there is a limited turning space and depth but it can take ships of up to 15,000 tonnes in capacity but more typically handles vessels around the 5,000 tonne mark.
Mr Ager says much of the extra capacity at Ipswich has to offer is roll-on, roll-off (Ro-Ro) business - that is cargo that can be driven off ships - and says the port could potentially handle an additional two to four shipments a day.
A mark of how far ABP sees Brexit as an opportunity is that the company recently announced it has invested £250m across its 21 UK ports since the EU referendum.
This includes a £700,000 investment in the construction of a new, de-mountable warehouse at Ipswich to provide extra storage.
Mr Ager says the project shows the port has the agility to cater swiftly to customer requirements, should the need arise.
He said: “The shed was erected in 12 weeks - the opportunity came when we were approached by a customer who told us they wanted to bring in a cargo of peas but that it would have to sit with us for some time.
“Ideally, we want volumes to come in and go out - to fly through - but it’s the right deal for both of us and we’ve offered them storage capacity of 6,000 tonnes and we made it happen quickly.”
Mr Ager added: “People may talk about our business historically being quite slow to make decisions but we’ve become a lot more customer-focussed and if the right opportunity comes along, we can make it happen quickly.”