It is obvious that an island nation with a lengthy coastline is likely to have a large number of ports and the UK is no exception.
The UK has 51 major ports as well as a host of smaller ones.
Its ports industry is the largest in Europe, dealing with approximately 96% of the volume of the UK’s import/export trade. That was 481.8 million tonnes of freight in 2016, according to most recent Government statistics (published in autumn 2017). The sector employs approximately 344,300 people and contributes £19 bn to GDP.
Although overall freight tonnage fell by 3% in 2016, this was largely due to a reduction in demand for coal imports since overall import freight traffic increased by 1-2% depending on the category. According to latest Government quarterly figures total tonnage levels for all UK ports remained level in 2017 compared to 2016 at 481.8 million tonnes handled.
Cargo is segmented into several categories, Roll on Roll off, Dry bulk, liquid bulk, Lift on Lift off, and “other”. Both Roll on Roll off and Lift on Lift off volumes have increased in the period with imports of international goods exceeding exports.
The busiest UK ports are Grimsby and Immingham, Port of London, Liverpool/Merseyside, Tees and Hartlepool and the UK’s busiest container port of Felixstowe, in Suffolk.
Ownership models of UK ports
There are three main ownership models:
Private ownership – This group includes ranges from ports owned by international groups to ports owned by private companies (eg the Bristol Port Company).
Trust ports – These are independent bodies that cannot be owned by other companies or shareholders. They tend to be smaller, but include some major ports such as Aberdeen, Belfast, Dover, Milford Haven and the Port of London.
Local authority owned ports – These include Portsmouth and the oil terminals in Orkney and Shetland
Diversity of UK ports
As well as 120 cargo handling ports there are over 400 non-cargo handling ports and harbours around the UK.
It is often forgotten that ports specialise in many different types of activity, such as fishing, cruise ship terminals, support for marine oil and gas terminals as well as locations for marine industries, such as boat building and marinas for berthing privately-owned yachts.
Arguably the cruise terminals are the second largest income generator, operating from such locations as Edinburgh (Leith), Dover, Southampton, Harwich, London-Tilbury, Portsmouth, Liverpool and Newcastle on Tyne.
Clearly UK ports play a significant part in generating income for the UK economy, even more so if the associated freight haulage is added in.
At the moment, they are facing considerable uncertainty about what will be required of them in the future in the face of the ongoing and now somewhat tedious negotiations over the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 and it is to be hoped that there will be some clarity over such issues as customs checks to enable the ports to plan their businesses for the future.