Communities and Local Government
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
When the coalition came into government, its focus had to be on reducing the UK’s debt and putting the UK economy on a sustainable footing. For too long, the UK had overspent and under-delivered. The Chancellor made it clear that the Government’s economic policy objective is to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries, rebalancing the economy by moving from unsustainable public spending and towards exports and investment. This should support the UK’s long-term economic potential and help to create new jobs. In addition, the Government have introduced the Localism Act 2011, which recognises the need to develop sustainable communities, allowing them greater freedom to develop while focusing on the planning needs of the local area, with a strong emphasis on regeneration.
Combining both those aspects is the starting point of my speech, which is about the regeneration and expansion of the Liverpool city region’s ports and waterways. How important are the ports to the city region? The ports and maritime industry have played a vital role in the history of Liverpool. In fact, so prosperous was the port that for periods during the 19th century, Liverpool’s custom house was the single largest contributor to the British Exchequer. Disraeli described Liverpool as the second city of the empire as the port became the gateway to the world, with 40% of the world’s trade passing through it. Liverpool built the world’s first enclosed commercial dock in 1715. Further docks were added in later years, all interconnected by lock gates and extending 7.5 miles along the Mersey. This interconnected dock system was the most advanced port system in the world. These magnificent docks, extensive dock systems and waterways still exist today and are ripe for regeneration.
However, the course of life does not run smoothly, and during the 20th century the port began to decline owing to a combination of the UK’s lack of a manufacturing base and the shift away from the Commonwealth to the Common Market. The southern ports of Southampton and Felixstowe, and eastern ports such as Hull, benefited from this move. In the 1900s, Liverpool’s population was about 850,000, but it began to decline in the 1950s, and rapidly so in the ’70s. Today, the population is about 450,000—and yet the city was designed to hold double. A city with such a large infrastructure to sustain—from a tube system, to parks, listed buildings, art galleries and museums, and even two cathedrals—is expensive to run and much in need of an increased population. Added to that, Liverpool, without the full use of its port and waterways, is only half a city; having water down only one side and an inability to make use of it makes it thus. I therefore propose that any impediments to the use of its waterways, or unfair restrictions placed upon the city so as not to
enable it to use them, would harm not only Liverpool and the Liverpool economy but the whole of the city region.
As times change, situations do too, and in 2012 the port of Liverpool is again ripe to come to the fore, for several key reasons. First, there is the growth of the new emerging markets such as those in the far east and Brazil; that does not only affect imports, as the UK is looking to double exports to Brazil by 2015. Secondly, there is the decision to widen the Panama canal to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. That is due for completion in 2015 and promises to change the structure of world trade flows. When completed, larger ships will emerge from the Pacific, prompting expansion of the US eastern seaboard ports such as New York. As Liverpool is already the primary western facing port into the Atlantic, it will be favoured as a primary port for all these extra-large vessels. Thirdly, there is the domestic consideration of costs to business and ultimately to the consumer. Liverpool is geographically well placed and very central, with a population of 8.2 million within 70 miles of it and easy connections to Ireland and Scotland; and a four-hour heavy goods vehicle journey from the port of Liverpool can reach a population catchment of 34 million. Fundamentally, Liverpool remains a great place for doing the things that supported its early growth—notably, handling the UK’s trade with the USA and the Americas and emerging markets, and maintaining its links with Ireland.
The city region has the ability to create a port hub—a super-port, if you will, Mr Deputy Speaker. To achieve this, it will need to continue the development of the 3MG inter-modal hub in Halton, the rail freight scheme at Parkside, the world cargo centre at Liverpool airport, and the post-Panamax facility, which is a new £300 million container terminal capable of simultaneously handling two of the new-generation post-Panamax size containers, and is privately funded by Peel Holdings. Although the existing maritime and logistics sectors support approximately 34,000 jobs, development of the super-port projects could transform the Liverpool city region economy, creating 21,000 jobs by 2020 and nearly 30,000 jobs by 2030 with the extension of the cruise liner terminal. At present, liners are permitted to berth only for port-of-call visits, but a turn-around facility would generate approximately £1 million for the city region economy for each liner. There is also the development of the—