Why is so much freight imported through Felixstowe and Southampton and then trundled up North?


It is a very pertinent question with fuel prices rising so fast.


Across the North we need to accelerate a concept that has been around for a few years now, the Atlantic Gateway. It is a concept based on the widening of the Panama Canal and the building of a new deep water terminal in Liverpool (work begins on that very soon). The idea then is that freight from the Americas and Ireland can use the land bridge across the North of England to Hull to access North West Europe.


Along the land bridge jobs will be created using the fantastic assets that are there. They range from Stobart’s Multi Modal Depot at Widnes, the soon to be built Mersey Gateway bridge between Runcorn and Widnes, the Manchester Ship Canal with new port depots along its length, Manchester Airport City and the Northern Hub which will benefit rail transport across the Pennines where the M62 heads for the rapidly developing city of Leeds and on to Hull, the gateway to the Baltic.


Although this is a grand design and big firms will play a major part, there is a crucial role for SMEs. This was highlighted at a recent conference that focused on the often dry subject of logistics. This is because the purpose of the Atlantic Gateway project is to get products to distributors and manufacturers as soon as possible.


Organised by the Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership and supported by Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood and Unipart the conference looked at the current state of the economy as this huge project is embarked upon.


Kieran Ring, Chief Executive of the Global Institute of Logistics said that the widened Panama Canal would dramatically affect global trade. The price of oil is really impacting the cost of inland distribution and short sea crossings would grow. Liverpool was in the right place to benefit.


Closer to home,Stephen Carr, Head of Business Development for Peel Ports said the Mersey/Atlantic Gateway concept was already being practised by companies like Heinz in Wigan, Typhoo tea and Kellogg’s in Trafford Park. He wryly observed that there actually was nothing new in the Gateway concept producing an 1894 map showing the rail connections around the new Manchester Ship Canal.


Scott Hardy, Freight Strategy Manager at Jaguar Land Rover was in buoyant mood. JLR had there best ever month in March with great sales figures for the new Range Rover, the Freelander and Evoque. He illustrated the formidable logistics exercise that JLR had to undertake between their factories at Halewood, Castle Bromwich and Solihull in the UK and their Chinese operation. It all depended on being highly competitive with stock levels. There was a big opportunity to increase imports from America through Liverpool.


Liverpool MP Louise Ellman is also chair of the Transport Select Committee. She announced an inquiry into Britain’s ports She attacked the lopsided investment in transport infrastructure spend between the North and the South. She said this was because decisions on spend were based on congestion (always a problem in the South) not the economic impact investment would have in the North.


Its important we get on with the Atlantic Gateway project across the North so that we are ready for the pick up in the economy when it eventually comes.