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Boosting trade and coastal communities post-Brexit? 10 ways to do it

There’s a lot of press coverage today about Government funding for regions post Brexit. But the UK’s ports sector has got there first, laying out a ten-point plan of simple reforms that can turbo-charge our ports industry at this vital time for trade in the UK and boost investment, jobs and prosperity in coastal communities all around the UK.

The plan, developed by the UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) in combination with the British Ports Association, lists a number of changes to planning law and other legislation that will allow ports to invest more quickly and flexibly, and with greater confidence. This increases the capability of the UK to trade with the world, absolutely essential however Brexit plays out with 95% of the UK’s trade in goods passing through its ports. Importantly, many of the reforms suggested in the plan will not just boost UK ports, but the coastal communities around them.

Common sense reform of local planning law is central to the plan, in order to give ports greater ability to invest and grow. Amongst the key proposals are:

  • Increase the scope of Permitted Development Rights within ports to cover more value adding & job creating activities.
  • Making the impact on trade and investment a material consideration in planning decisions
  • Giving Masterplans for ports same formal recognition as other local masterplans. Giving them the same weighting in local planning as residential, commercial and some industrial plans already are.
  • Special consideration should be applied to coastal communities in the National Planning Policy Framework, as is already the case for rural communities.
  • Develop pro-trade, pro investment ‘port zones’ around specific ports and their hinterland areas

The UK Major Ports Group is the trade association representing most of the larger commercial ports in the United Kingdom. It has nine members, who own and operate over 40 ports, accounting for more than 75% of the total tonnage handled in UK ports.

Tim Morris, CEO of the UK Major Ports Group, said: “In the post-Brexit world, trade needs to be hard-wired into all our policy-making. Our ports are the gateway to UK trade and it is imperative that we have the right framework in place to allow them to invest in the future and make the UK as attractive for international trade as possible. UKMPG members already invest more than half a billion pounds in the UK each year. They are ambitious to do more, boosting the UK’s capability to trade and also, crucially, jobs and prosperity in the UK’s coastal communities.

“Our plan focusses on ten common-sense, pragmatic and practical ways the Government could create a better environment for ports, for trade and for investment, helping not just the ports themselves but coastal communities all over Britain. With the challenges and opportunities the post-Brexit world presents, we urge Ministers to look carefully at these proposals.”

The Full 10 Point Plan is Below

  1. We should broaden the scope of Permitted Development rights for UK ports to make investment faster and easier and increase the potential for growing good, value added jobs. This requires speed in decision making and enabling ports to be agile in responding to investment opportunities, including where UK ports are in competition with EU alternatives, and expanding activities into new and higher value areas.
  2. We need a revised definition of ‘operational land’ so it better reflects the modern major ports business, and covers the full area used by multimodal ports – so that regulation recognises that the activities of modern ports are not to the ship to shore transfer, but that they are important centres for distribution chains, manufacturing activities and provide a wide array of services.
  3. If a development is going to have a significant positive impact on trade and investment, this should be recognised as a material consideration in the planning process. This is already set out in the National Policy Planning Framework, and it is important that this principle is consistently applied.
  4. We need to streamline decision making at ports, and a review of the Coastal Concordat is needed to clarify responsibilities between marine authorities and local councils. Ideally, we need to establish one single lead authority on these matters, to make a clearer and more accountable process for planning.
  5. The defined stage gates feature of the planning process used for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) should be more widely applied, in order to ensure greater certainty in the planning process.
  6. The needs and opportunities for ports should be included in local strategic spatial plans, in the same way residential, commercial and industrial developments are currently considered.
  7. Similarly, masterplans for ports should be given formal status in the planning process, in exactly the same was residential masterplans are already considered.
  8. Coastal communities are unique in what they can deliver for the economy and it is important that we encourage investment, jobs and trade in these areas as much as possible to harness this. Special consideration should be applied to coastal communities in the NPPF, much in the same way it already considers rural communities.
  9. We should explore pro-trade, pro-investment ‘port zones’ around specific port areas and their hinterlands. With a strong business case and local support, this policy has the potential to greatly enhance regional economies as well as boosting the UK’s capability to trade with the world. The concept could be extended further to ‘free trade zones’, a tried and tested method which has been successful elsewhere in the world, including in the USA, Europe and Asia.
  10. We should review environmental regulations with the aim of creating a system which is both good for trade, and ensures high standards of environmental protection. For example, we should seek to favour innovative enhancements rather than inflexible ‘like for like’ approaches to environmental re-provisions.

Taken together, these are opportunities to unlock much more private sector investment in – all too frequently – hard pressed regions without largely the Chancellor putting his hand in his pocket. To us in the ports sector this feels like a plan that’s good for the UK and good for coastal communities. Let’s get on with it!