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Will the real Peel Ports please stand up?

As many of our supporters have pointed out, the Peel Ports media machine has been busy recently. Depending on what you choose to believe, Peel Ports are either champions of sustainability, or an unstoppable force, striving for constant growth at the expense of all around them.


As ever, the truth is probably somewhere in between.


Mark Whitworth, Chief Executive Officer, Peel Ports

It’s always good to take a moment to consider these developments and what they mean in the context of our campaign.


At the beginning of September, Peel Ports scooped an award for “Community and Environmental Responsibility” [1].


Now, it’s easy to be cynical about this – and many were – but the award was for the rejuvenation of rail links between the Port of Liverpool and Scotland. Whilst this doesn’t represent a huge percentage of their business, it is still important and should be applauded, if only for the fact that it’s a tantalising glimpse of what might be possible.


Where there’s a will…


Unfortunately, this work is completely undermined by the total misuse of a rail link and the service Peel Ports provides to the Drax power station in Selby, Yorkshire.


Image: Peel Ports

If what we have learned is true [2], pellets are made from trees felled in non-sustainable forests in the USA causing huge environmental damage in the process, then shipped thousands of miles to the UK, transported by rail from the Port of Liverpool, to be burned to make power for us.


Surely, that's just about as environmentally IRRESPONSIBLE as it gets?


How’s this for an idea? Wouldn’t it be far better if this practice (and all the government subsidies which come with it) was banned, freeing up capacity on that rail link to transfer containers, removing the corresponding HGVs from our roads? We think so.


Why is no one else thinking like this?


Then came news of the next phase of the Port’s expansion [3]. More ambitious plans, all being set in motion without any resolution to the congestion and infrastructure problems the port’s existing activities are contributing to in this part of the borough.


Don’t forget that Highways England’s road project has stalled or, dare we say, ground to a halt? Whether that’s down to the level of opposition they are facing, Brexit, government spending reviews, the anticipated general election, or a combination of all these things, who knows?


In any event, it seems that even without the road, Peel Ports are carrying on as if it’s not an issue for them.


We know that business – and big business especially – must make plans. However, we simply cannot understand why there has seemingly been no acknowledgement about how unpopular both ‘solutions’ are amongst the public – the very people who will have to live with the consequences?


Do we not matter?


Wouldn’t it be fantastic to hear Peel Ports recognise the challenges we are facing and want to play a positive role in finding a solution? Wishful thinking, perhaps, but we haven’t given up hope.


Peel Ports’ own website recently posted an article [4] by their Managing Director of Port Logistics, Gary Hodgson. In it, he wrote:


“We have a responsibility as operators to consider a joined-up approach to connectivity beyond the port gates, working together to deliver a multimodal solution to relieve the pressure being put on surrounding road and rail networks due to increased throughput.”


A ‘responsibility to consider’?


How about an obligation to deliver?


Either way, it seems to represent a slight shift in position, particularly as he goes on to say that“For me, rail connectivity is the number one priority”.


Although he was speaking in the context of west to east connectivity across the UK, we maintain that rail intervention is essential closer to home. A non-road solution to moving freight from the port to the motorway network has become an urgent requirement, in light of everything we know about the pollution, environmental damage and carbon emissions Highways England’s road would cause.


Image: Peel Ports

What about our communities ‘beyond the port gates’?


Peel Ports' statements about exploring greater use of rail bring with them a responsibility to acknowledge that a road solution here in Sefton is fundamentally flawed and must be scrapped.

They have previously told us that a rail link to the motorway network isn’t acceptable to them [5] as it is inefficient and not conducive to supporting their regional clients.


We say, that’s not our fault.

We won’t accept the destruction of our green space and poisoning of our air as a consequence of the port’s expansion.


Shouldn’t Peel Ports be using their influence to demand a long-term rail solution to the congestion and pollution problems their operations have contributed to in our borough?


Otherwise, aren’t their words empty and nothing more than a PR exercise?


We are left wondering whether Peel Ports missed a golden opportunity to change the perception of the company held by many, many people in Sefton.


In our meeting with them, we proposed that they were in a fantastic position to commission their own consultants to look at the issue from a holistic perspective, approaching it from an environmental and public health viewpoint, without the ‘baggage’ of days gone by and being constrained by road solutions alone, as is the case with Highways England.


Funding such research would have been small change to such an organisation.


However, they weren’t willing to consider this at that time. Their stance was that a government-led project was delivering a solution it believed was best.


Who were they to intervene?


Months and years down the line, we believe that both Peel Ports and Highways England massively underestimated the strength of public feeling out there and just how many people would get behind the campaign.


In the intervening time, the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Scheme has become politically toxic.


The Council opposes it. Our MPs oppose it. Even our Metro Mayor says ‘better solutions’ are needed.


At the same time, we – the public – have learned so much about the public health impacts that new roads bring, the impact that the loss of green space has on our mental health, the environmental destruction that is caused, and the huge contribution to the climate emergency that HGVs and other transport, not to mention the shipping industry make.


Which raises an interesting point.


One thing missing from all of Peel Ports’ articles whenever it talks about welcoming “the world’s biggest container ships” are the mind-boggling statistics about the pollution and emissions that will be arriving in Sefton as a result.


The following makes for shocking reading:


“It has been estimated that just one of these container ships, the length of around six football pitches, can produce the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars. The emissions from 15 of these mega-ships match those from all the cars in the world. And if the shipping industry were a country, it would be ranked between Germany and Japan as the sixth-largest contributor to global CO2 emissions. [6]”


One ship.

50m cars.

50,000,000.

FIFTY MILLION.


That’s not a typo, or scaremongering. So,this is what we have to look forward to?


When these ships sit in the port, being loaded and unloaded, with their engines running… guess who will be breathing it all in?


Rather than viewing these ships as a badge of honour, shouldn’t we be viewing them as “the world’s worst polluters” – as the article goes on to state – and be worried that they are about to make the already polluted air we breathe a whole lot worse?


Regrettably, it seems that there is little or nothing we can do about that now.


The Port’s location should have meant that such polluters weren’t welcome.


BUT times have changed.


Isn’t there a moral obligation on Peel Ports and ALL parties to mitigate the impact that the port’s expanded operations will have by working with local, regional and national government to pursue solutions which limit the damage it will cause in such a built-up, residential area?


Economic arguments alone are no longer enough.


Freight simply does not belong on our roads.


We have never been given the opportunity to have this view heard.


The moment the government instructed Highways England to deliver a solution, without first consulting independent transport and infrastructure experts, we were only ever going to be offered variations of another dirty road.


Image: Liverpool Echo

The past couple of years could – and should – have been spent working with all parties to explore sustainable and ethical ways of running a successful port without the knock-on effect of damaging the health and environment of those living in the surrounding communities. If that had happened, we could all be well on our way to agreeing and delivering a positive, cooperative solution to the problems we are all facing.


Instead, it could be viewed that Peel Ports have simply closed their eyes, crossed their fingers and hoped that the road would just happen.


Well, it hasn’t, and we will continue to do our very best to make sure that it doesn’t.


All in all, we are left wondering if they rue the day they chose not to take us up on our suggestion of leading the effort to find a better way.


If freight on rail is truly what they want, surely they have the power and influence to make this happen?


Will the real Peel Ports please stand up?


References

[1] Details of Rail Freight Group award:

http://www.liverpoolchamber.org.uk/article.aspx/show/31070

[2] Details of protests against Drax and its activities:

https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2018/drax-agm-protest-2018/

[3] Article taken from Peel Ports’ website:

https://www.peelports.com/news/2019/contract-awarded-for-phase-2-of-liverpool2-container-terminal-expansion

[4] Article taken from Peel Ports’ website:

https://www.peelports.com/news/why-northern-ports-must-work-together-to-deliver-multimodal-freight-solutions

[5] Summary of our meeting with Peel Ports, 19th March, 2018:

https://www.saverimrosevalley.org/post/whose-road-is-it-anyway-our-meeting-with-peel-ports

[6] Statistics on emissions from super-container ships:

https://inews.co.uk/news/long-reads/cargo-container-shipping-carbon-pollution/

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