MPs criticise Government policy on ports

An influential committee of parliamentarians says the UK Government's National Policy Statement for Ports is not fit for purpose.

The cross-party group of MPs also criticises the Government for failing to allow sufficient time for a key public body, the Marine Management Organisation, to comment on the proposals before they are finalised. The MMO starts operation next month.

Launching the report, Committee chairman Louise Ellman said, "Our witnesses, from across the spectrum, told us that the ports policy should be clearly co-ordinated with that for national road and rail networks. Yet the Government seems to be rushing the Ports NPS through with unnecessary haste. The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) has told us that there are no major port applications in the pipeline and the Marine Management Organisation, which will handle many of the smaller proposals, does not come into existence until April 2010."

The IPC, which has been operating since October 2009, will make decisions on major planning proposals, based on a general policy statement from the Government, a National Policy Statement (NPS). The Government published the NPS for Ports - along with six related to energy - in November 2009, and has said it will publish an NPS on national road and rail networks by the end of March 2010.

MPs also criticise the lack of evidence to underpin the policy for port development. The Government admits that its forecasts for growth in port traffic do not take into account the impacts of the recession. The Committee calls for these forecasts to be updated urgently and warns that, unless this work is undertaken, there is a danger that the need for new ports will have to be argued in each development application - one of the main things that an NPS is intended to avoid.

UK ports are mainly privately owned and run. The Government's interim policy on port development, published in 2007, says that the market should decide where and when additional port capacity should be built. The Committee says it recognises that the Government cannot force developers to build ports in locations they think will be uneconomic, nor force ships to use them, but it wants to see a clear link between the Government's policy to reduce regional economic disparities and the planning guidance on ports development. There also needs to be better linkage with regional spatial and economic plans.

Louise Ellman added: "The Government says the free-market should decide where ports are located. We believe that the Ports NPS should be linked much more strongly to regional development plans. It should also express a clear preference for port development where national needs can be met while producing greatest regional social and economic benefits. There should also be a clear preference for port development in locations where significant environmental benefits can be achieved - particularly through reduced road transport.

The Committee also raises concerns about the short time available for consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny of the document.

 

Draft National Policy Statement for Ports:
http://www.dft.gov.uk/consultations/closed/portsnps/

Transport Select Committee report:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtran.htm

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