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The Sefton Council & Arup Report on Port Access: Our Response; Part 1

Sefton Council’s press release and the corresponding report issued on Tuesday, 1st December was a major step forward: not only in our efforts to protect Rimrose Valley Country Park and the vital green space and clean air it provides, but also to improve the living conditions of all communities living alongside the existing A5036 route and across our part of Sefton.

As the report itself was a little tucked away within the press release itself, we wanted to pull out the key information, explain how this relates to our own situation and summarise our understanding and views here.

There is a lot to take in, so we’re doing this in two parts, beginning with some of the more obvious questions.

What does the report address?

The report was produced in conjunction with Arup, one of the world’s leading engineering and design consultancies, and focuses on the role of automation in extending the port gate in congested port precincts and cities.

In other words, how do we get containers from the Port of Liverpool to where they need to be when the port is based in such a unique, residential setting as ours?

It’s worth noting that much of what follows in the report is abstract, with little reference to Sefton, the Port of Liverpool, or the Liverpool City Region.

Many of you have picked up on this.

BUT (and it is an important ‘but’) this report was commissioned by Sefton Council, who are more than aware of the complexities of our area, the specific challenges we face and the impact of the port’s operations on local communities.

On that basis, we are confident that such information will have been shared with Arup when compiling this study, before presenting the options contained within it.

So, what is being proposed?

In a nutshell, the study offers real life examples of both existing and new technology (or ‘mass movement systems’) by which containers are transported from a port to an inland hub (or ‘dry port’) and vice versa.

This ‘inland port’ would be next to the Strategic Road Network (motorways), making access to and from the facility quicker, easier, more efficient and keeping HGVs off residential roads. Containers arriving at the port are moved inland to complete the remainder of their journey by HGV. Containers due to be exported are dropped off by HGV at the inland hub before being transported to the port.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It is also worth noting that the inland leg of the journey could be completed by rail, but the diagrams included specify the Strategic Road Network, as can be seen alongside each of the examples below.

The report also explains that the inland port, being a larger, purpose-built facility could fulfil other roles, such as container refurbishment. We wonder if it could also include rest and service facilities for HGV drivers – something both the Road Haulage Association and Freight Transport Association were lobbying Highways England to deliver as part of its road proposal?

It could even be large enough to contain processing plants for goods of a certain category to be ‘worked on’ in some way. This is highly relevant to Peel Ports’ plans for the Port of Liverpool’s growth and its desire for Liverpool to become a freeport, post-Brexit.

As per their press release, Sefton Council strongly opposes these plans unless they are done in a manner which respects our communities, our environment and actually deliver tangible economic benefits to the borough.

What do these ‘mass movement systems’ look like?

The report presents three technologies. Where specific companies are mentioned, we’ve added hyperlinks to their website for you to take a look in more detail, which we recommend you do.

Automated Guided Vehicles:

Long, flat trucks, similar to those seen moving luggage containers to and from planes at airports. Requires a dedicated ‘highway’. Battery powered, low noise, low emission.

The Ports of Rotterdam and Singapore are examples of where this technology is currently in operation.

Overhead Container Transfer System:

Like an upside-down monorail or ski gondola and can run either above ground, or underground, via a tunnel. Powered by mains electricity, low noise, low emission.

The report offers two commercial applications of this technology. FuTran-MiloTek supports the mining industry in South Africa. EagleRail focusses solely on freight containers and has entered into an agreement with a port in Bangladesh. It champions its ability to remove heavily polluting diesel HGVs from the surrounding local road network.

Freight pipeline:

Also referred to as Underground Logistics Systems (ULS). Containers (or, on a smaller scale, pallets) are transported via a network of tunnels in a secure pipeline (which can also be overground), using ‘cradles’ running along a track via electro-magnetic propulsion; technology similar to that in use on rollercoasters. Powered by mains electricity, low noise, low emission. The report offers Mole Solutions as a provider of such technology.

What route would any of these solutions follow?

This one’s easy to answer; we don’t know.

However, this clearly depends on whether the system is over, or underground.

Crucially, unlike Highways England’s stance that the cost of a tunnel was prohibitive, a tunnelled route, or tunnelled sections of the route, have not been discounted for any of the 3 solutions proposed.

We are therefore working on an assumption that it has been established that there is enough space within the port’s existing boundaries for a loading area to be constructed and that at least some element of tunnelling of the route will be inevitable.

The major distinction between this and a road tunnel is that any tunnel(s) required to support these solutions would be much, much smaller, would not have to factor in ventilation shafts for exhaust emissions (they are all electrically powered) and therefore be much cheaper to construct.

The diagram which accompanies the Overhead Container Transfer System is a little less clear. It would appear to indicate that the technology could run alongside a shared road corridor. Without knowing specifics, our initial thoughts are that such a solution is unlikely to work here in Sefton as not only would it disrupt the flow of traffic along existing port access routes during its construction; it could have the effect of further ‘industrialising’ what would surely be residential areas, which is clearly something everyone would wish to avoid.

Rather, we prefer the supporting text which states that this technology can, like the others, be implemented underground.

Given that this report is all about reducing the environmental and social impact of the Port of Liverpool’s operations, and that an underground, low-emission approach would be the ideal means of doing this, we are working on the assumption that both Sefton Council and Arup will have considered this, too.

Where would the inland hub be located?

As with the route, the current level of detail in the report mean that it’s impossible to say, but to apply this to our region the Strategic Road Network could mean the M57, M58 or even the M62. Many of you will be aware that there are already huge purpose-built depots and warehouses sitting in what are brownfield, industrial settings.

If this scheme was ambitious enough and crucially, if the funding can be found, why couldn’t such a solution terminate in this kind of location?

Depending on how far any system could transport these containers, the inland hub could even be in a different borough of the city region.

As for how they would go about choosing a potential site, the report lists some of the major considerations, as follows:

Table taken from the Arup Inland Port Connectivity Concept Report


The crucial thing to bear in mind in relation to all the above is that none of this is about shifting the problem away from Rimrose Valley, the A5036, or even onto another borough. It is about finding the right solution and the best technology, route and location to achieve this.

As a green space campaign with a focus on the environment and public health, we are obviously keen to understand not just the benefits of these proposals, but also some of the potential drawbacks they could present.

In our next update, we will therefore explore some of the pros and cons of this approach and will do our best to make these as relevant to Sefton and the Port of Liverpool as possible.


Link to download the Sefton Council & Arup Inland Port and Connectivity report:

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