Felixstowe – developments to take the port into a profitable future

On 11th January 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport took part in a ceremony to launch the next phase of expansion at Hutchison Ports, Felixstowe.

For fifty years the port has been central to the UK’s import/export market, and the new developments are designed to keep the port abreast of the latest logistics trends.

Larger container facilities at Felixstowe

The new programme of work will include creating a 13-hectare paved container yard backing onto Berth 9. For this to happen 3.2-hectares of land will need to be reclaimed from the seabed, requiring major dredging and sea level reconstruction. As the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe will benefit from the increased container facility which will offer direct access to berths 8 and 9 which were the first UK facilities built to handle two of the new super-size container vessels simultaneously. The new container secure storage area also allows easier access between these berths and warehousing areas at the port, meaning that the containers, which can be stacked six tall, can be more easily moved around the facility. Container-handling operations between berth and yard will be simplified so that more rapid transitions from port to distribution can be made. The new Felixstowe Logistics Park is designed to improve portside activity and to harmonise all the logistical activities that lead to Felixstowe whether they are road, rail, air or sea freight.

Felixstowe currently has 130,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) storage space, and the new yard, which should be finished early next year, offers a further 18,000 capacity.

Felixstowe rail improvements

For both importing and exporting companies, rail infrastructure can be essential. At Felixstowe port, the container operations have also been scheduled for further development, building upon their 2017 record of handling more than 1 million TEU arriving by train.

Rail to port facilities are to be enhanced, increasing train transport to and from the port to 47 journeys per day, and offering a substantial increase in warehousing operations between rail and port. The joint investment, funded by Network Rail and Hutchison Ports, covers the journey between Felixstowe and Ipswich by creating a second track as well as improving efficiency on the existing rail-track. The total cost of the improvements is expected to exceed £40 million and the port claims that over 100 million HGV miles a year are saved by using rail freight to and from Felixstowe.

Because Felixstowe serves all major British conurbations it makes a unique contribution to the logistics UK industry and as rail services are increasingly viewed as a vital component of onward shipping for both importers and exporters, the port’s capacity to handle more rail freight and to streamline the customs-to-onward-freight process is expected to becoming increasingly vital to the port’s competitive advantage in a post Brexit Europe.

Air Quality improvements

The managing company, Hutchsion has also succeeded in removing some substantial impediments to healthy activity at Felixstowe. An Air Quality Management Order was applied to the port by Suffolk Council in 2009, however, was lifted in 2017. Improvement in air quality has come from investment in cleaner technologies which have also driven efficiency savings throughout the port.  The benefit to organisations using the port is threefold:

  • Direct and third-party employees are less exposed to air hazards, resulting in a healthier workforce
  • Innovations in container management have improved cost-per-container charges, giving a better return on each container’s passage through the port
  • The effect of road vehicle activity on the local environment and public health will be reduced, offering the port a greater range of alternative activities such as leisure and tourism.

Felixstowe port conflicts

However, it’s not all plain sailing for the freight port. A 120-hectare business park, planned for farmland near the port, has been given the go-ahead despite strong local objections. The new park, between Trimley St Martin and Kirton, is designed to reduce pressure on storage and distribution which the port says is intensifying although one local parish council believes this necessary development could better be sited closer to the port in areas currently underdeveloped by the port authority.

The current usage predictions suggest that around 3,000 lorries, mainly HGV, and 600 cars will visit the business park daily and the park will contain 10,000 spare metres of distribution space, including a haulage park and container storage facilities. Road hauliers claim that a secure haulage park is vital to the development of high-quality container transport through the port and point out that driver safety is currently being compromised by offsite parking facilities that do not guarantee hauliers safe, clean and comfortable spaces in which to spend their required non-driving hours.

Value-added developments at Felixstowe

One area where there is no dispute is the increased investment in automated facilities. From computer-led cranes handling container movements from quay to warehouse space, through to semi-automated pick and distribution services allowing companies to complete an import-to-end-customer activity from within the port itself, value-added activities are becoming a major differentiator of international port choice.

Shipping container transport, which can have narrow profit margins and tight deadlines, often seeks value-added facilities close to arrival ports, to ensure that maximum benefit is gained from local activity without adding cost for transport or increasing risk by seeking a value-added activity that includes movement of goods which always adds to both insurance and logistical overheads. The new business park at Felixstowe is expected to offer both a returns facility and value-added branded packaging and onward transmission systems which will benefit smaller shippers through the provision of previously in-house services directly at the port of arrival.

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