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Joint bid for Thames freeport

Forth Ports Group and DP World have formed a partnership to submit a joint freeport bid. Photo: Forth Ports
Two of the UK’s largest port businesses have announced a joint bid for a freeport on the River Thames to attract new investment to the UK.

Near U.K.’s Busiest Port, Brexit Hopes Are Layered in Asphalt – The New York Times

MERSHAM, England — The fields around the quiet village of Mersham, just 20 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, are a vision of idyllic English countryside. Lush, green trees sway above rolling acres of golden wheat. The spire of a 13th-century church looms on the horizon.

But soon, something far less charming could mar this pastoral vista: a 27-acre parking lot with hundreds — even thousands — of idling trucks. If Britain’s exit from the European Union causes the chaos many fear, up to 2,000 vehicles headed for France could be held at a time here in an asphalt Brexit purgatory.

Four years after Britons voted narrowly to leave the bloc, the implications of that decision are dawning on some of those who live in an area where support for Brexit was strong. The parking area is widely being called the “Farage Garage” — a reference to Nigel Farage, the nationalist politician who was one of the loudest voices for Brexit.

ImageNear U.K.’s Busiest Port, Brexit Hopes Are Layered in Asphalt - The New York Times
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

“The noise and pollution would be huge, particularly if this is a 24-hour facility,” said Liz Wright, an elected council member in the local municipality, Ashford, looking out over the site officially known as MOJO on a recent sunny morning.

“This has happened so suddenly and without any consultation,” added Ms. Wright, a Green Party member who voted to leave the European Union in 2016 — as did six out of 10 people here — but said she did not expect this to be the result.

Back then, Leave campaigners dismissed their opponents’ predictions of more bureaucracy and disruption to trade across the English Channel as “project fear.” Now, in the southeastern region that calls itself the “garden of England,” that fear has taken on a very real, tarmac form.

Though it left the bloc on Jan. 31, Britain remains tied to Europe’s customs system through the end of the year, so freight still enters from the Continent with minimal interruption. In preparation for what comes next, the government is spending £705 million — more than $920 million — to upgrade customs and border infrastructure.


Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Brexit supporters have made confident pronouncements that the new system will barely slow the flow of goods. But if it goes wrong, it could do serious damage to Britain’s economy and to the bucolic life here.

The site near Mersham is designed to check freight traffic arriving on ferries from France. But local politicians have been told that, if post-Brexit rule changes bring chaos to the Channel ports, this could also become a temporary place to park trucks.

“People are very anxious about what might happen,” said Damian Green, the Conservative Party lawmaker for Ashford and a former senior cabinet minister.

“The worse case scenario will be miserable, possibly for a few months, but in the best scenario it won’t have to be used at all as an emergency lorry park,” he said.

Kent knows all about traffic mayhem around the Channel ports. In 2015, when French ferry workers went on strike, a line of 4,600 trucks stretched back 30 miles on one roadway.

Near U.K.’s Busiest Port, Brexit Hopes Are Layered in Asphalt - The New York Times

20 miles









English Channel







By The New York Times

On that occasion, the gridlock combined with a heat wave. Emergency teams handed out more than 18,000 bottles of water to stranded truckers, as perishable cargo went bad.

“Delays at the border could cause significant knock-on effects for ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, potentially precipitating widespread economic disruption while also turning parts of Kent into a lorry park,” said a recent report from the Institute for Government, a research organization, on what to expect in January.


Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Even before the government bought the MOJO site, it was widely expected to become a warehouse. So construction work did not come as a surprise to many people, but the nature of the project did.

Those who think gridlock can be avoided include John Lang, who voted for Brexit and has not changed his mind. He described his home and tranquil garden close to MOJO as a “little bit of paradise,” and was confident it would stay that way.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to make it work,” Mr. Lang said.

Local people who wanted to stay in the European Union feel vindicated, even if they are reluctant to crow about it.

“I just think it’s so sad that this is another bit of countryside that we have lost,” said Sheila Catt, an administrator in the health service. She worries about air pollution, as well.

The problem for Mersham lies partly in the geography of Dover, a short drive to the east, where one of the world’s busiest ports is crushed into a limited space bounded by the famous white cliffs behind it.

Today, as many as 10,000 trucks can pass through the port daily, rolling on and off ferries in a ceaseless flow of cargo, mostly to and from Calais in France.

With Britain operating under the European common market rules, trucks usually clear the port of Dover in around eight minutes. Only a tiny number of vehicles are stopped.

That arrangement is scheduled to end on December 31, when Britain is expected to chart its own course. The risk of disruption is high — adding just two minutes to the time needed to process each truck, the Port of Dover has estimated, could produce a 17-mile backup.


Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement between Britain and the European Union are deadlocked. But even if they strike a deal that eliminates tariffs, more checks on products will be required than at present, and there is simply no space to perform them at Dover. So trucks will stop in places like Mersham instead.

The chief executive officer of the port, Doug Bannister, said that the Dover-Calais ferry route was so important economically across Europe that any gridlock would likely be resolved fast. If there is disruption, Dover has systems in place to clear bottlenecks relatively quickly, he said, and Britain plans to phase in its rule changes, giving time to adapt.

But he acknowledged “some unknowns out there,” including, critically, how French authorities will handle freight checks at Calais. Any gridlock on one side of the Channel would spread quickly to the other — if trucks cannot roll off ferries, the ferries cannot load other vehicles for the return trip.

Britain’s new system for electronic customs declarations is still being developed, and surveys suggest that smaller exporters are ill-prepared for the new bureaucracy, and are preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am very, very confident that there will be no disruption on January 1 primarily because it’s a bank holiday,” said Mr. Bannister, “but January 2 may be a different question.”

At the MOJO site, Paul Bartlett, a Conservative Party representative on Kent County Council, welcomed the construction of a customs facility, and the jobs it could bring, but opposed its use as a holding pen for delayed trucks. “One of the main frustrations is the lack of information,” he said.

But sitting in the garden of the Farriers Arms, a country pub in Mersham, Jo Gregory said that the implications of Brexit were only starting to sink in.


Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

“I don’t think people had thought it through until recently,” said Ms. Gregory, a sales assistant who did not vote in the 2016 referendum and still doesn’t have a firm view of Brexit.

But she is not staying here to make up her mind.

So worried is she about the MOJO development that she is moving home from one village about four miles from the site to another, Westwell, farther away.

“It’s going to be busier, it’s going to be noisier,” she said, “and it’s bad enough with the traffic we have at the moment.”

Easing of border controls could lead to increase in crime, expert warns

08 August, 2020 – 05:30

Could easing of border controls lead to more crime at the UK's port such as Felixstowe? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Could easing of border controls lead to more crime at the UK’s port such as Felixstowe? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN


Any easing of border controls to help boost the economy post-Brexit could make the UK an even more attractive destination for illicit goods and drugs, an expert has warned.

Dr Anna Sergi's report looked at crime and corruption at ports Picture: DAVE HIGGLETON/UNIVERSITY OF ESSEXDr Anna Sergi’s report looked at crime and corruption at ports Picture: DAVE HIGGLETON/UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX

Dr Anna Sergi, a criminologist from the University of Essex, carried out an in-depth study into crime and corruption at ports in the UK and around the world and looked at what was being done to prevent it.

She found ports are already hotspots for crime – acting as key entry points for drugs and illegal goods – and warns the Government proposal for freeports, where normal tax and custom rules do not apply, could lead to a increase in crime.

“The current UK proposal for freeports is not addressing a number of issues that relate to organised crime in ports.

“Indeed, freeports yield a number of criminal opportunities for illicit drug trade, counterfeit trade, money laundering, tax evasion and evasion of custom duties. In particular, the already existing risk profiles of a port are augmented by the existence of free trade zones,” she said.

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Dr Sergi’s 174-page report profiled Liverpool Port as her UK case study, but she said Felixstowe – the UK’s biggest container port – will be the most affected in terms of volume of cargo coming in from Europe, potentially leading to less physical checks on containers post-Brexit.

She said: “The current situation of intelligence sharing between Border Force and NCA (National Crime Agency) in the port and local police forces outside the port is not functioning across the whole country.

“With Brexit, Felixstowe particularly will be the most affected port in terms of volume of cargo coming from Europe which will likely be subjected to more scrutiny post-Brexit.

“This means that criminal groups usually moving things via sea through Europe will have to adapt to this condition by changing routes and using maybe other ways of transport, by road for example, and authorities will be slow in catching up.

“The increased volume of control in Felixstowe or Harwich might also mean more superficial control, already now we check less than 5% of containers daily, after Brexit with more bureaucracy we could end up physically checking even less.”

MORE: ‘Tip of the iceberg’ – Expert fears more illegal immigrants landed on Suffolk coast

Dr Sergi found drugs to be a major issue at all the ports she visited, and, unsurprisingly, that is where most of the law enforcement is placed.

“If cocaine production increases at the rate that it has increased in the past years (quadrupled in Colombia in the past four years) and the demand for cocaine in the UK is also increasing, cocaine trade to the UK will certainly not stop. The likelihood that the UK’s borders will be an even more attractive destination for illicit goods, such as cocaine, especially after Brexit, is a realistic concern,” she said.

Dr Sergi believes the lack of data about the true levels of crime associated with ports, together with complex relationships – a multitude of authorities have different jurisdictions over various aspects of port life – allow crime to flourish.

She suggests security networks should be established around ports with all the different authorities working together.

A Home Office spokesman said the UK is “well-equipped” to combat cross-border crime.

“Illegal drugs devastate lives and communities. Working with our partners at the NCA we will continue to do all we can to arrest and prosecute those involved in drug smuggling,” the spokesman said.

“Border Force officers continue to play a key role in tackling smuggling, detecting illegal immigration, disrupting serious and organised crime and helping to prevent the threat of terrorism, as well as protecting the UK’s revenue and contributing to the nation’s prosperity and growth. They are well equipped to combat immigration crime and detect banned and restricted goods that smugglers attempt to bring into the country.”

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Find out how technology is likely to change jobs at ports in Norfolk and Suffolk

Felixstowe is the UK's largest port and is likely to introduce further automation in the next few years. Picture: Getty Images

Felixstowe is the UK’s largest port and is likely to introduce further automation in the next few years. Picture: Getty Images

By Igor Filchakov

In the second of our series showcasing career opportunities in Norfolk and Suffolk, we look at the impact technology is having on ports in the New Anglia region.

Increased automation will have an impact on how ports operate in the UK and across the world. Picture: Getty ImagesIncreased automation will have an impact on how ports operate in the UK and across the world. Picture: Getty Images

For centuries, the ports of Norfolk and Suffolk have connected the region to Europe and the rest of the world. Despite changes to new technologies and updated business models, their critical role in UK trade continues to grow.

There’s no denying that the ports and logistics sector is changing rapidly. In the New Anglia region, passenger transport now accounts for

just 14pc of local employment opportunities, while freight dominates. The region is home to the UK’s largest container port, Felixstowe, with King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Ipswich – the UK’s number one grain export port – also playing their part.

For 40 years the ports, along with Norwich Airport, have also supported the growth of the offshore energy sector – something which is only set to grow with the creation of two of the world’s largest offshore windfarms: Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas.

It is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 2014 and 2024. Picture: Getty ImagesIt is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 2014 and 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Around 22,500 people are currently employed in the sector, but the transport logistics sector, which incorporates rail, road, air, storage and warehousing is much bigger, employing around 48,700 people in the New Anglia region – just over 6pc of the area’s total workforce.


It is expected that around 25,000 new jobs will be created in the ports and logistics sector between 
2014 and 2024. A significant number of these (around 19,000) will be to replace people who have retired or left the sector, but it is expected that over this time skills will also change as new technologies and changing priorities re-shape demand.

Tom Duit, operations manager at ABP Lowestoft. Picture: ABPTom Duit, operations manager at ABP Lowestoft. Picture: ABP

Development is likely in the region’s distribution routes, including road and rail, to bolster the region’s capacity to carry freight – something which already dominates road and rail links in the New Anglia region. Felixstowe, the UK’s largest container port, handling approximately 40pc of traffic, is one example of this. It’s already largely automated but is expected to make substantial investment over the next few years. Although new equipment can, in theory, be operated from anywhere, new skills will be required to continue operations.

In particular, new jobs are expected in engineering, including electrical engineering, and ICT to cater for the increase of autonomous vehicles and digitally-enabled operations.

Renewable and offshore energy is also key in the sector’s growth in the New Anglia region.


Taking part in work experience at a ports or logistics company is a fantastic way to get a feel for the sector and will help you decide if this is the right industry and career trajectory for you.

Some companies like ABP also offer apprenticeship and graduate schemes, allowing you to learn from skilled and experienced professionals.

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The sector invites applicants with experience across other sectors too – particularly those with a background in engineering or digital technologies. 
The University of Essex also offers a targeted postgraduate course in International Logistics and Supply Chain Management.


Tom Duit admits that a bachelor’s degree in history isn’t what many might expect for a career in the ports industry – but he says it still provided him with the right skills for the job.

“Many people think history is the study of dates,” he says, “but it’s mainly the study of people’s opinions and forming your own based on their views – that’s essentially what I do now in my day-to-day role.”

Tom started at Associated British Ports (ABP) in January last year as an operations manager at the port in Lowestoft. He looks after the general day-to-day management of the port, collaborating with a diverse range of people from across the business. “I essentially act as a focal point for the various local and regional functions – such as property, commercial, 
HR, health and safety, compliance, engineering and finance – and make decisions based on their recommendations.”

But it wasn’t just Tom’s degree that put him in good stead for the job – it was his work experience, too.

Before heading off to university, Tom decided to seek out some experience onsite with ABP. He spent some time at sites in Immingham, Ipswich and his hometown of Lowestoft and knew that the experience could help him stand out in the future.

But it also helped him to know if it was the job for him. “Having prior experience with ABP, I knew the role would provide me with different challenges each day,” he says. “I like this variety – it keeps me switched on and interested.” Tom says that one of his favourite aspects of his role is working with colleagues to deliver important infrastructure upgrades throughout the port. 
“It really feels like the port is changing for the better and being pulled into the 21st century.”

Part of this, he says, is in the port’s role in offshore energy. He believes that the sector will grow tenfold in the coming decades, 
and with it will come plenty of opportunities in Lowestoft over the next two to three years. “This will not only benefit the port,” he says, “but the local supply chain and the community.”

With 21 sites across the country, Tom says that ABP offers great prospects as an employer. “There’s plenty of opportunity all around the country, and in different sectors,” he says. “It’s all about employing the right people and giving them the chance to get on and dive in.”





For more advice about careers opportunities in Norfolk and Suffolk, check out our Building Back Better supplement.

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