Expansion at Tilbury moves closer amid Brexit backdrop

The proposed expansion at London’s Port of Tilbury moved a step further this week, as it submitted an application for a development consent order to the Planning Inspectorate.

The proposed new port, Tilbury2, will be built on a 152-acre site next to its existing facilities. It will include a RoRo terminal and a ‘Construction Materials and Aggregates Terminal’ (CMAT) for handling bulk construction materials. In addition, the expansion is designed to cope with rising demand for consumer goods and perishables.

As early as 2012, Forth Ports, the operator that owns Tilbury, announced an 8-year, £1bn investment plan. Tilbury2 is estimated to account for around one tenth of this. Other developments included the UK’s largest warehouse at the port’s second extension site, the 70-acre London Distribution Park for Amazon UK, which began operating this autumn. 

The land purchase for Tilbury2 was agreed in March 2016. Since then, much has changed and questions have been raised about the suitability of the UK’s infrastructure in post-Brexit Britain.

It is concerning times for those that operate terminals with high exposure to Europe. Dover is a one such example that attracts much media spotlight. Over half of all heavy goods vehicles that pass through British ports pass through the Dover. According to the head of the British Freight Transport Association, James Hookham, lorries heading to destinations within the EU single market and customers union usually board ferries in under two minutes. If this were to double, he says this could leave queues of up to 17 miles long.

It is important to stress that although there are similarities with Dover, there are also important differences. Tilbury is highly exposed to European trade, accounting for around 60% of traffic, but not to the same extent as Dover, which is just 21 miles away from France.

Alongside expansion at the Port of Tilbury,  a new road infrastructure investment of between £4.4bn and £6.2bn is planned across the river Thames. The Lower Thames Crossing could be beneficial to the port of Tilbury, which has, according to Highways England, one of the “least reliable and least resilient road connections to the national motorway network of any major port.” Dependent on your point of view, this may help open Britain up to the rest of the world, or become a lorry park. But in addition, Forth Ports hopes to improve rail links between the port and the rest of the UK.

Despite uncertainty surrounding the future, the investment in Tilbury is much needed. The port has been extremely successful in recent years, with volumes up by a third since 2010. In 2016, its overall tonnage grew by 1m to 13.5m.

With this new investment and by building on its recent success, Tilbury could be one of the winners in post-Brexit Britain. If it experiences long delays and demand for its new facilities are meagre, it is unlikely to be the only loser.

Source: Transport Intelligence, December 19, 2017

Author: Andy Ralls


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