London Gateway no challenge to Felixstowe

London, UK: Felixstowe port owners are bullish about the futurer and see no threat from London new container port under construction at Thurrock, Essex.

“We’re the port for Britain. We’re not only for London – London is 70 miles away from Felixstowe – but we’re servicing the entire country,” says Clemence Cheng, managing director of the Central Europe division at Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings, which owns Felixstowe,

In a BBC report, he welcomes the competition but Felixstowe will still be the bigger port, even when London Gateway is fully finished, he says.

London Gateway is being built by the Dubai-owned company DP World at a cost of £1.5bn ($2.35bn), on the site of a former oil refinery in Essex. The first ships should start arriving by the end of next year and when it is completely finished it will be able to unload six of the biggest container ships in the world at the same time.

London Gateway chief executive Simon Moore says: “We’re just 20 miles away from Europe’s largest economic zone, so this is the closest that we can really get to London.” He says the London Gateway plan is reminiscent of hundreds of years ago when London had a flourishing port nearer the city. “We’re bringing London and the UK’s hub port back home again to the River Thames.”

The developers are also building what they claim will be Europe’s biggest logistics park to handle the imported cargo. At the moment, whatever their ultimate destination, most of the goods imported into the UK are taken by road, and some by rail, to big distribution centres in the Midlands, the traditional logistics hub for the country.

However, at present some goods are being driven north from southern ports to Midlands distribution points, only to be sent down south again. London Gateway is hoping some companies will want to move their distribution centres to the park at the new port and in doing so, change the logistics map of Britain.

However, whatever gains London Gateway makes, other areas of the UK could lose out, such as the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, 75 miles away, which has dominated British container trade for the past 30 years.

Cheng rejects the argument companies will be attracted to London Gateway by its closer proximity to the South East and London. “Now when you look at it, will a manufacturer want to take their truck load of cargo on the M25 motorway, [or] through a very congested railway to go back into London?

London Gateway has not yet signed up any shipping companies as clients. The Danish-owned Maersk is the biggest container ship operator in the world, but it is currently committed to Felixstowe. Maersk’s UK and Ireland operations manager, Mark Cornwell, says London Gateway will be “an outstanding facility”, but Maersk remains committed to Felixstowe.

BBC Radio will carry the full report on Radio 4’s In Business on Thursday, 2 August at 20:30 BST and Sunday, 5 August at 21:30 BST.