Port fears for customer poaching

DEVELOPERS of a port yet to be built are trying to poach customers from Britain's biggest container terminal, it was claimed today.

DEVELOPERS of a port yet to be built are trying to poach customers from Britain's biggest container terminal, it was claimed today.

Bosses at Felixstowe port say the group behind the proposed massive London Gateway project have held meetings with shipping lines currently using their services, trying to persuade them to move their business when the new port opens.

Chris Lewis, chief executive Officer of Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited, owners of the Port of Felixstowe, said: “We are aware that a number of our customers have been contacted and meetings held with some of them.

“Our customers are vital to our future and our customer service needs to be at its very best at all times.

“If we do not have berths available, then shipping lines will go elsewhere where there are berths available.”

Mr Lewis said it is essential proposed expansion of the southern part of the Port of Felixstowe goes ahead to provide extra deep-water berths for the bigger and bigger ships calling at UK ports.

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The project has received Government permission but it hinges on permission being given for dualling part of the Felixstowe-Ipswich rail line to take more cargo by train. The rail expansion was part of the conditions for the project.

Mr Lewis said a public inquiry would take place into the proposals in March.

Despite the shipping industry's claims that the UK has a severe shortage of container berths and needs more port capacity, the £1.5billion London Gateway port on the Thames Estuary is set to be a major rival to Felixstowe when it opens,

Southampton is also set to expand its operations, and Hutchison Ports has plans for a project of its own at Bathside Bay, Harwich.

It is not unusual for ports to try to poach customers from rivals. Over the years Felixstowe has lost business, putting jobs at risk, and then regained it later, the same companies returning after negotiating better deals.

A spokesman for London Gateway developers DP World could not confirm whether approaches had been made to shipping lines.

He said: “We have outline planning permission for the project and are waiting for the green light from the government. The team is excited about advancing its plans and when we hear the government's decision will consider the next steps.”




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FASTFACTS: London Gateway

London Gateway port and business park will be developed at Shell Haven, a 1,500 acre site of a former oil refinery on the River Thames in Thurrock, Essex.

Cost of the development is likely to be £1.5bn, invested over ten to 15 years.

The port is being developed by DP World, who bought out former owners P&O last year, together with Shell and other partners.

The schemes are expected to create 16,500 new jobs, and the first port berths could be operational by 2010.

It is estimated the final destination of a quarter of the containers currently imported into the UK is within a 25 mile radius of Shell Haven.

The deep-sea port would have a 2,300 metre quay and could handle up to 3.5 million standard-sized containers a year.

It already has a dual carriageway link to London and the M25 motorway network and a rail connection to the UK rail network.