Ministers back growth of ports

The final version of a document that sets out the framework for future planning decisions on port development has been altered to include a presumption in favour of ports development and an increased role for them in servicing offshore renewable energy developments.

The port national policy statement (NPS), which was published last week, almost two years after the government's first draft of the document, says there is a "compelling need" for additional port capacity over the next 20 to 30 years.

New port development is required to cater for long-term growth in the volume of imports and exports, boost local and regional economies and support the development of offshore sources of renewable energy, according to the document.

It says: "It has become evident that demand for port capacity to service the manufacture, operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms will be substantial. Because of the government's renewables targets, there is a strong public interest in enabling ports to service these developments."

The need for additional port capacity can be met by a combination of developments that have already been granted planning permission (see map) and those for which applications have yet to be received, the NPS says.

However, given the level and urgency of need for such infrastructure, the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which decides on planning applications of national significance, should "therefore start with a presumption in favour of granting consent to applications for ports development".

Ports sector and planning professionals said they hoped the changes would make it easier to get ports-related applications approved.

Richard Bird, executive director of the UK Major Ports Group, said: "The final NPS has been strengthened in two major ways. Firstly, it gives stronger recognition of the role ports can play in supporting offshore energy developments. Secondly, the wording is even warmer about the importance of ports in promoting sustainable economic development.

"We would certainly hope that the presumption is a strong pointer to the IPC to give full weight to port development proposals."

David Marshall, a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute's transport planning network, said: "The NPS is very much about a free-market approach. The presumption could well make it easier for a ports developer to come along and say: 'We're going to build here'."

However, he added that the main barrier to ports growth has been the recession, not planning policy. "Even with the presumption, I don't anticipate many new applications coming through until there is an upturn in the market," he said.

Angus Walker, a planning lawyer at Bircham Dyson Bell, said: "I'm not sure that the presumption will have much effect. The IPC is still obliged to turn down an application if it is satisfied that its adverse impacts, such as damage to coastal environments, outweigh its benefits."

Concerns were also raised over an apparent lack of detail relating to other transport links with ports. Bird said: "I am disappointed that the document does not clearly set out how ports development should be linked with road and rail infrastructure, when this hinterland is key to ports' successful running."

Tim Hancock, managing director of consultancy Terence O'Rourke, noted the absence of any site-specific policy. He said: "I would have expected the NPS to give some direction as to which locations will be considered particularly significant for attracting global investment to the UK."

The NPS can be viewed via Planning

Potential Capacities under existing consents

5m teu*
Port of Felixstowe
Consent granted in February 2006

3.5m teu*
London Gateway
New port. Consent granted in June 2007

1.7m teu*
Consent granted in February 2008

3.1m teu*
Has plans to expand terminal capacity within its existing development

1.7m teu*
Bathside Bay
New port. Consent granted in March 2006

1.6m teu*
Consent granted in September 2010

1.6m teu*
Consent granted in March 2007.

* teu = Twenty-foot equivalent unit (standard measure of container
Source: National Policy Statement for ports

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