2014-06-24-TOC-CSCC14Q & A with Mark Whitworth, CEO of Peel Ports

(May 22, 2014) Peel Ports has become the latest major port operator to partner with TOC Events as Associate Sponsor and will be out in force at this year’s TOC Europe show in London. Peel Ports’ executives will take part in a range of strategy and technical debates at the CSC, TECH TOC, PCL and Bulk Port & Technology conferences during TOC Europe, sharing views and expertise from the UK and Ireland markets.

The company is in the midst of a multi-million pound investment to develop Liverpool2, a brand new automated container terminal capable of handling over 95% of the world’s largest vessels. Supported by coastal and feeder services, the Manchester Ship Canal, and the Port Salford tri-modal distribution complex, Liverpool2 is at the heart of an ambitious project to develop the ‘Atlantic Gateway’, an integrated logistics base to improve supply chains for businesses across the UK North-West.

TOC caught up with Mark Whitworth, Chief Executive of Peel Ports, to talk about latest developments and the keys to success in a competitive marketplace.

TOC: How is the UK market shaping up for Peel Ports in 2014?

Mark Whitworth: We handled over 1 million TEU in the 2013/14 financial year, with the Port of Liverpool delivering strong growth. Overall TEU volumes handled across the Peel Ports Group terminals – including Belfast, Dublin, Greenock, Liverpool, Manchester Ship Canal and Sheerness, rose around 2.5%. The outlook for this year is positive, not least with the Irish market showing signs of recovery from economic recession.

TOC: How is the development of Liverpool2 progressing?

Mark Whitworth: We are pleased with the progression of such a significant and challenging project. We will deliver one of the most technologically advanced terminals in Europe. ZPMC has recently been contracted to manufacture our state-of-the-art crane requirements, including 8 MegaMax ship-to-shore units and 22 automated CRMG yard cranes, an investment of £100m.

TOC: What are the biggest challenges of attracting global carriers back to Liverpool and how are you tackling these?

Mark Whitworth: We are encouraged by conversations with shipping lines, many of which use Peel Ports Liverpool today. Liverpool remains uniquely placed as the central gateway for the UK and Ireland, with over half of the UK population living closer to Liverpool than to ports in the South East.

Liverpool is also within a 70 mile radius to the highest density of large warehousing (over 9,000 sqm) in the UK. Our hinterland encapsulates over 28% of the UK’s large warehousing, more than the 20% located in the golden triangle *.

Calling at Liverpool gives carriers the chance to balance import and export flows, with laden cargoes moving in both directions because of the proximity to the net export markets of Scotland, Ireland and the North West. The demand for direct services from blue chip importers and exporters is growing.

The efficiency that the new terminal will deliver to shipping lines is an added factor in securing carrier commitment. However, market consolidation through P3, G6 and the CKYHE alliances has resulted in some uncertainty, with many shipping lines deferring decisions on their own networks until the alliances have defined their trading routes and ports of call.

Having said that, we have been successful in securing new and improved services from existing lines. ACL announced a new 10 year agreement to bring its next generation G4 vessels to the Port of Liverpool from 2015, with a corresponding 50% increase in capacity from the previous G3 ships. CMA CGM added a second feeder connecting Le Havre with our Irish Sea terminals, calling at Liverpool, Dublin, Belfast and Greenock. And BG Freight Line added a second Irish Sea service connecting Rotterdam/Antwerp with our Irish Sea terminals. We have witnessed significant increase in feeder activity from a base of 2 services a week in 2009 to 6 services a week in 2013, which we hope will grow in 2014

TOC: How are you engaging local and regional shippers in your vision and how important is this to your overall success? 

Mark Whitworth: Engaging directly with shippers remains at the core of our strategy and is an area we have had real traction over the last few years.

Liverpool offers a central gateway and represents a viable alternative to Southern UK ports. The cost and carbon savings we can offer for the total supply chain are both crucial elements, as is excellent connectivity, access to 35 million consumers and proximity to the UK’s highest density of large warehousing.

In addition, there is significant investment in warehouse projects close to Liverpool (Omega and Logistics North) as well as developments along the Manchester Ship Canal, all of which will serve to increase the significance and appeal of the region to cargo owners seeking to maximise their cost benefits by being closer to the market. The increase in feeder services from 2 a week in 2009 to 6 a week in 2013 is testament to the demand from shippers.

TOC: How important is hinterland connectivity, including coastal and feeder shipping, to the future of Liverpool?

Mark Whitworth: The merger of our shipping operations under the BG Freight Line entity has delivered synergies for future growth and connectivity which will play a vital part in our Irish Sea Hub strategy, using Liverpool2 as a hub to connect with our terminals in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow. The Manchester Ship Canal delivered another record year in 2013, handling 22,500 containers versus just 3,000 in 2009, and we believe there is plenty of room for more growth. 

TOC: Peel Ports’ executives will be speaking on a range of topics at TOC Europe this year. What are the top messages you will be sharing about challenges and opportunities in the industry today?

Mark Whitworth: Naturally, that Liverpool2 will be open for business to the world’s largest vessels and that the shifting pattern of population, consumption and manufacturing in the UK make investment in the North West region an attractive proposition. And also that to survive and thrive today requires cutting edge technology and continuous investment in our customers .

*The golden triangle refers to the cluster of warehousing and logistics activities in the UK Midlands at the intersection of the M42, M1 and M6 major motorways

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