Our ports policy paper, "Modern Ports: A UK Policy", published last November, recognised a need to be better informed about developments in the UK port industry. The Department recently issued a discussion paper, "Recent developments and prospects at UK container ports", which notes that most industry forecasts point to an overall shortage of container movement capacity in the UK over the next 10 years. Market pressures are driving up the size and draught of container ships, which means that container facilities need to offer deep water with good tidal windows and ample manoeuvring room; there is only a limited number of sites capable of meeting these criteria. Market considerations, such as proximity to principal shipping lanes and markets, and other criteria such as transport access, including the availability of deep water concentrate demand in the south-east and east of England.
As indicated in "Modern Ports", the Government believe there are important national economic benefits in meeting the growth in demand. We recognise that this would require significant container port capacity increases in the south-east and east of England over the next few years. There are relatively few specific sites where such capacity can realistically be provided which meet the criteria previously noted. At the same time, we are well aware that some expansion proposals may have significant local environmental impacts and that these represent a challenge to which those proposing port development need to rise. Planning decisions will have to take due account of these considerations.
The discussion paper discusses recent trends and prospects for demand at container ports and how it might be met. Its purpose is not to discuss in detail all the issues which planning procedures have to address, but to promote a better understanding of the ports and shipping business, and of the demands which are now causing pressure on capacity. Copies of the paper are in the Library, and it is also available from my Department (EAMI Division, Zone 1/34, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London SWIP 4DR) and on the Department's website. A further consultation paper is planned discussing project appraisal criteria to be applied to port developments.