23 June 2015
Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be updating Plenary on ports on Tuesday 7 July .
Wales has 32 ports with Milford Haven, Cardiff, Holyhead, Newport, Port Talbot, Fishguard and Swansea often classed as “major ports” carrying more than 1 million tonnes of freight.
Milford Haven, Cardiff and Newport are also designated as “core network” ports in the EU Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), while Swansea, Fishguard and Holyhead are included on the “comprehensive network”.
In Wales, as in the UK generally, the ports sector is largely privately owned and deregulated.
Unlike Scotland, ports policy and planning decisions are not currently devolved in Wales, except for small fishing and recreation harbours and travel within Wales.
The key UK Government policy document is the National Policy Statement for Ports. Policy in England and Wales is market led and non-interventionist. Department for Transport emphasised the benefits of this approach in its evidence to the Enterprise and Business Committee’s 2012 inquiry into International Connectivity Through Welsh Ports and Airports.
In March 2015 The Silk Commission reported:
The evidence received on this matter mostly calls for devolution of port development to ensure that a distinct Welsh policy can be created for the economic development of this sector and the creation of an integrated transport infrastructure for freight. It would however be important to maintain and enhance the competitiveness of Welsh ports. We believe that devolution would improve the coherence between local transport, planning and port development.
Silk recommended that “port development, including harbour orders and oversight of Trust ports” should be devolved. Trust Ports are independent statutory bodies governed by their own statutes under the control of a local independent board. The trust ports in Wales are Milford Haven, Newport, Neath, Saundersfoot and Caernarfon.
The St David’s Day devolution package agreed with Silk that “the devolution of ports policy fits well with the existing responsibilities of the Assembly and the Welsh Government in areas such as economic development, transport and tourism”. This is confirmed in the background notes to the Queen’s Speech.
Enterprise and Business Committee key recommendations
The Enterprise and Business Committee made 11 port recommendations in its ports and airports inquiry report. The Welsh Government initially responded in September 2012, and updated the committee in October 2014.
Among other recommendations, the Committee proposed that Welsh Government should commission feasibility studies on short sea shipping (i.e. coastal trade and freight) and port centric logistics (which includes establishment of distribution centres in ports). While the Minister’s October 2014 paper highlighted that her Freight Task and Finish Group did not identify a case for further short sea shipping studies, she told the Assembly during a Plenary Debate on ports on 22 October 2014:
To date, the general view has been that there would be limited opportunities. However, I am keen to test the current appetite in the market for such services and to identify what action might be necessary to enable progress. I have therefore written to the Welsh Ports Group, which brings together all the port interests in Wales, to ask it to consider the issue and report back to me with the sector’s view on the potential for increasing port-to-port shipping in Wales, and I will then, of course, report back to the Assembly.
The Committee also highlighted the strategic importance of ports for the renewable energy sector. The Minister’s update said Welsh Government is working with WEFO to facilitate development of the renewable energy sector. The paper concluded:
Despite the disappointing news regarding the offshore wind farm “Rhiannon” and “Atlantic Array” we are hopeful that there are still potential opportunities for Welsh Ports for future investment in offshore wind, marine demonstration zones and the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. My officials are working with port operators and investors to maximise the benefits renewable energy opportunities present throughout the supply chain.
Finally, the Committee made two recommendations on tourism, particularly cruise tourism. The Committee had found that cruise market was buoyant, and that there were opportunities for Wales. However, these opportunities were not being fully exploited and there is a need for investment in Wales which, while beneficial to Welsh tourism, might not generate enough return justify ports themselves investing. Cruise Wales told the Committee that Irish ports had invested “significantly” in infrastructure. It also identified a need for marketing investment to develop the cruise market.
The Minister’s October 2014 update outlined action on berthing facilities, and development of the cruise market, saying “Cruise Wales has a marketing plan in place which is linked to the Visit Wales Annual Business Plan and the overall tourism strategy “Partnership for Growth””.