Simon Bird, Regional Director (Humber) of Associated British Ports and a new Director on the Greater Lincolnshire LEP Board, gives his views on the sector, the significant opportunities, and the contribution towards the Government's levelling up and zero carbon agendas.

Our competitive edge in ports and connectivity serving nationally important industries has long supported the growth of UK-leading clusters including offshore renewables, advanced manufacturing, food manufacturing and energy. These ports account for over a quarter of all British rail freight movements, with Humber ports supporting around 35,000 jobs and adding £7.6 billion GVA to the UK. Our ports network represents a major UK gateway to the Midlands Engine, Northern Powerhouse and UK industrial heartlands. 

The south Humber ports of Immingham and Grimsby form a significant integrated ports and logistics cluster, and are part of the Humber Ports, which is the busiest complex in the UK.  Along with the Port of Boston, they offer significant opportunities through the newly announced Humber Freeport green energy agenda, and are poised to offer post-Brexit trade solutions. 

Immingham is a critical part of the supply chain for sustainable electricity generation and evolving green energy production, helping power the nation and cementing the Humber as the UK’s Energy Estuary. Benefiting from a prime deepwater location, Immingham has existing direct routes to Europe, North and South America, Africa, Australia, and both the Middle and Far East. Thanks to considerable investment, it maintains its enviable position in the premier league of ports, delivering the latest state-of-the-art infrastructure, equipment, systems and facilities with specialist terminals capable of handling super-vessels up to 366 metres in length - longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower.

The Greater Lincolnshire LEP, along with ABP Ports and other partners, is therefore delighted to welcome the Budget announcement that the Humber is among eight areas of England to receive a new freeport, following a highly competitive funding bid. Our bid is uniquely placed to deliver on the Government’s agenda to level up and decarbonise our economy, and we expect this opportunity to bring in major investment to our part of the world and lead to over 7,000 new jobs for the Humber. Watch my short overview video here.

Little known outside of the port sector, Immingham port has also been treated by the Government as an asset with Critical National Infrastructure status and during the pandemic this was tested like never before as vital to keep Britain trading. Without this port, many essential products would not reach British businesses, public sector organisations or the UK public. 25% of refined oil which fuels our vehicles, 10% of the nation’s electricity power, significant proportions of our food, clothing and medical supplies, all arrive via the Port of Immingham. Alongside our emergency services, port workers form part of the army of key workers who have helped to keep the nation functioning, including include ABP’s 100-plus marine pilots working 24/7 to navigate ships safely into port; Vessel Traffic Service operators - in effect the air traffic controllers for shipping movements in the Humber; and hundreds of port operatives and engineers, keeping the wheels oiled. I am very proud of their continued and selfless response to the pandemic and now through into recovery.

To the east, Grimsby is the UK’s leading automotive port and home to the biggest hub in the world for the offshore wind industry. The port also continues to handle a wide range of other cargoes, while retaining strong links to the traditional fishing and food industries. 

Just west of Immingham dock, the Able Marine Energy Park represents a singular opportunity for the UK to establish a world-scale offshore wind industrial cluster. AMEP is a simple concept based on the industrial needs of the rapidly developing renewable energy sectors, and it has achievable aspirations to transform the local economy and become a facility of international repute. Offering direct proximity to market, this project offers substantial quays in the right location, built to accommodate the deployment of large industrial components to the North Sea and beyond, from the heart of the largest offshore wind market in the world.

And just last week, the Humber Zero decarbonising industry project announced £12.5m of Government funding which will see eight million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year safely captured and stored in depleted gas chambers in the North Sea by the mid to late 2020s, taking great strides towards the Net Zero agenda.

Meanwhile, businesses in Boston and across South Lincolnshire in collaboration with Boston Borough Council and South Holland District Council are poised to seize new post-Brexit trade opportunities with an ambitious plan to make the Port of Boston one of Britain's major food ports. 

In response to a desire for lower carbon supply chains and food trade market concerns around capacity and congestion at the UK’s ports in the South East, this development will see more fresh fruit and vegetables arriving via Boston directly into the UK’s largest food processing cluster in South Lincolnshire. A new border control post in Spalding has already been opened 14 miles from the port, specialising in food and capable of clearing imports by rail, sea and road. The development of the cluster is also focusing on improving rail links, alongside more direct sea freight routes, to help the industry deliver the 2030 ambition of the UK supermarkets for zero carbon supply chains.

Spalding and south Lincolnshire has the largest food logistics cluster in the UK with 30% of all UK food travelling through the area at some stage in the supply chain. This represents over a million vehicle movements per year and over 1,200 finished truck-loads of food leaving the area every day.

The food logistics cluster is working with the University of Lincoln to deliver world-leading digital supply chain technologies, using 5G to provide end-to-end control and traceability. The supply of low-carbon energy from offshore wind farms, alongside digital technologies, will allow the south Lincolnshire food cluster to deliver the UK’s most efficient and sustainable food chains.

The central location of Greater Lincolnshire’s ports network offers a compelling statistic that they can serve over 75% of the UK population within a four-hour drive time. Outside of the ports, Greater Lincolnshire has a major freight cluster, with 22,000 jobs dependent on road, rail, freight warehousing and wholesaling businesses. This includes clusters on the Humber, in south Lincolnshire, and major businesses on the A1 corridor.

Transformation of the carbon footprint of the freight transport sector is therefore a major focus for clean growth. Heavy goods vehicles account for 4% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, and sea freight contributes a further 1% from domestic emissions. The road to Net Zero will require substantial changes, including the adoption of electric vehicles and green, or renewable derived, hydrogen fuel to adapt.  Moving freight from road to rail and using sea freight to deliver it closer to end users will be a big step towards targets. Shipping is also embracing low carbon technology: AP Moller and Maersk announced in February that they will have a carbon-neutral feeder vessel in service from 2023 in Europe, seven years ahead of schedule, using renewable methane, and a similar plan is under way in the Far East to trial ammonia as an alternative fuel.

With our large ports and logistics sector and our focus on clean energy, Greater Lincolnshire is uniquely placed to drive the transition to Net Zero in the freight transport sector.

Add to that access to a key infrastructure network, including the expanding Humberside Airport, A1 corridor, East Coast Main Line and world-leading food clusters, our ports and logistics sector offers a huge opportunity. It continues to underpin the growth of our priority and emerging sectors and to generate opportunities for economic growth across broad and varied supply chains, while establishing new innovation through decarbonisation and clean energy.

Greater Lincolnshire now has an unrivalled opportunity to play a pivotal role in leading the green energy agenda through our unique ports and connectivity network thanks to our vision, innovation and investments which we have collaboratively achieved.

Read our latest newsletter focusing on ports and connectivity here.