Port faces challenging year

BRITAIN'S busiest container terminal is today facing its most challenging year ever - with rivals racing to expand and trying to poach its biggest customers.

BRITAIN'S busiest container terminal is today facing its most challenging year ever - with rivals racing to expand and trying to poach its biggest customers.

Last year container throughout at the Port of Felixstowe hit a new record level as the number of boxes handled again topped three million.

But senior executives say they cannot rest on their laurels and need to work extra hard this year to hold on to customers who may be made attractive offers to move elsewhere.

Chris Lewis, chief executive officer of Hutchison Ports UK, which owns Felixstowe, said the port had fewer but bigger customers than previously and losing one would have a major impact on the port and the area's economy.

“It's going to be a very challenging year - we need to maintain our service levels and keep our customers happy,” he said.

Five new cranes would be arriving this year - the first three next month - which would provide extra capability and improve productivity.

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But the most crucial project would be to make a start on the £250 million redevelopment of the Dock Basin and southern part of the port to provide new deepwater berths to accommodate more of the world's biggest ships.

Britain's ports were working at capacity and many of Felixstowe's rivals - Southampton, Liverpool, Bristol and Teesport - had plans to expand, plus work was set to start on the creation of the massive London Gateway terminal.

“We need to get on with our Felixstowe south development as quickly as possible to protect ourselves from some extremely strong competition as many of our rivals now have schemes to expand ready or under consideration,” said Mr Lewis.

“If Felixstowe is to retain its customers it's important we are first with Felixstowe south and in the meantime up our game.”

It was the first time Felixstowe was facing real competition and directors were well aware that other ports were targeting the terminal and trying to take its business away.

“If any of our customers decided to relocate that would have a major impact on Felixstowe - both the port and the local community,” he said.

He praised the port's excellent workforce and spoke of the changes to working practices which management wanted to bring in to make it more efficient and flexible. The proposed changes are currently the subject of talks between executives and union officials.

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