Northern ports are the key to the Northern Powerhouse
Great transport connectivity for our Northern ports is the keystone to the success of the Northern Powerhouse. The case for this bold claim can be made by looking closely at our complex of ports in the Humber. Combined, the ports of Hull, Goole, Grimsby and Immingham (the largest port in the UK by tonnage) are the largest port complex in the UK by a factor of two and contribute £2.3 billion to the UK economy every year. The 34,900 jobs associated with the work of the ports in the Humber already help to underpin the success of the economies in Leeds, York, Sheffield, and beyond.
Trade through the Humber ports amounts to some £75 billion every year, more than the Tyne, Tees and Mersey combined. This helps fill shelves across the country, from local supermarkets to city centre department stores. It also allows access to international markets for businesses across the North. Still, a large amount of trade bound for the North comes in from ports further south. The Port of Felixstowe in particular handles large volumes of containers, 50% of which are bound for destinations much closer to the Humber. The only reason that trade comes via that route is because containers can be put on trains there.
Work is currently underway to upgrade the rail gauge to and from the Port of Immingham as a necessary first step to establishing new rail routes for containers from the Humber Ports. Unlocking this potential will not only increase jobs in the Humber, but will also increase the competitiveness of businesses in cities across the Northern Powerhouse, allowing them to access international markets faster than at present. The reduction in congestion could also be dramatic. Around 1,500 lorries travel through Immingham and on to the M1 or M62 every day. If we can move containers by rail, a huge number of those lorries will no longer need to use currently congested roads.
We also need to upgrade road connections to the ports. Trade through the Port of Hull is booming, with the container terminal having increased from five sailings per week to 15 in the past year. However, it is all too common for the vehicles leaving the port to be delayed on the congested A63. Our customers tell us that the port could be an even more attractive place to do business if the planned A63 improvements can happen soon.
In addition to supporting industry and business across the country, ports provide perfect locations for manufacturers who rely on the import of components or raw materials before exporting their finished products. The establishment of freeports on the Humber, Tees or Tyne could help to supercharge the Northern economy after Brexit by attracting new investment in export-led manufacturing. By enhancing the ability of ports to grow trade and create jobs, this policy would drive economic growth and regeneration and help to rebalance the economy in the process.
If transport connectivity is improved and innovative ideas are explored, the benefits created would not just be felt in the Humber, but across the Northern Powerhouse. In a post-Brexit economy, this will give the North of England the edge it needs to succeed.