Transport Committee: Press Notice

Session 2009-10, 17 March 2010

Publication of Report


Publication of Report

The proposal for a National Policy Statement on Ports (HC 217)

Red light for the Government's National Policy Statement for Ports

The National Policy Statement for Ports is not fit for purpose until major changes are made. It should not be finalised before the Government has made clear its parallel planning policies for national road and rail networks, says the Transport Select Committee.i

The Committee's report draws together the evidence from its comprehensive Parliamentary scrutiny process ii on the draft National Policy Statement for Ports. The cross-party group of MPs also criticises the Government for failing to allow sufficient time for a key public body, the Marine Management Organisation,iii to comment on the proposals before they are finalised.

Launching the report, Committee Chairman Louise Ellman said, "Our witnesses, from across the spectrum, told us that the ports policy should be clearly co-ordinated with that for national road and rail networks. Yet the Government seems to be rushing the Ports NPS through with unnecessary haste. The Independent Planning Commission has told us that there are no major port applications in the pipeline and the Marine Management Organisation, which will handle many of the smaller proposals, does not come into existence until April 2010."

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC)iv is the cornerstone of the reformed planning system for major infrastructure projects (as set out under the Planning Act 2008). The IPC will make decisions on major planning proposals, based on a general policy statement from the Government, a National Policy Statement (NPS). The Government published the first seven NPSs€”for ports and energy€”in November 2009, and has said it will publish an NPS on national road and rail networks by the end of March 2010.v

MPs also criticise the lack of evidence to underpin the policy for port development. The Government admits that its forecasts for growth in port traffic do not take into account the impacts of the recession. The Committee calls for these forecasts to be updated urgently and warns that, unless this work is undertaken, there is a danger that the need for new ports will have to be argued in each development application€”one of the main things that an NPS is intended to avoid.

UK ports are mainly privately owned and run. The Government has stuck to its interim policy on port development, published in 2007, which says that the market, rather than Government, should decide where and when additional port capacity should be built. The Committee criticises the lack of connection between the Ports NPS and the Government's wider policies to reduce regional economic disparities, and also to regional strategies. The Committee recognises that the Government cannot force developers to build ports in locations they think will be uneconomic, nor force ships to use them, but it wants to see a clear link between the Government's policy to reduce regional economic disparities and the planning guidance on ports development. There also needs to be better linkage with regional spatial and economic plans.

Committee Chairman Louise Ellman adds, "The Government says the free-market should decide where ports are located. We believe that the Ports NPS should be linked much more strongly to regional development plans. It should also express a clear preference for port development where national needs can be met while producing greatest regional social and economic benefits. There should also be a clear preference for port development in locations where significant environmental benefits can be achieved€”particularly through reduced road transport.

The Committee also raises concerns about the short time available for consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny of this important planning document.vi Although much debate has focused on major projects and the IPC, most applications will be for smaller port developments and so the NPS will be of greater relevance to local planning authorities and the MMO. The Committee calls on the Government to take note of the various detailed points made by consultees, not only in relation to the Ports NPS but to ports policy in general.

i Transport Committee, A proposal for a National Policy Statement for Ports, Fifth Report of Session 2009-2010, HC 217, March 2010.

ii The Committee received some 60 written submissions and took oral evidence from port operators, planning, transport environmental and legal bodies, as well as the Infrastructure Planning Commission and the DfT.

iii The Marine Management Organisation starts operation on 1 April 2010. It was established under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Amongst other duties, it will handle applications for port development which fall below the threshold set in section 24 of the Planning Act 2008.

iv The Infrastructure Planning Commission was established under the Planning Act 2008. It has operated since October 2009 and started receiving proposals for nationally significant infrastructure on 1 March 2010. It must make its decisions on proposals in accordance with the designated NPS. Once an NPS has been designated (formally approved) by the Secretary of State, the IPC and not the Secretary of State will be the decision-maker.

v The Government has said it intends to publish the National Policy Statement for National Networks by the end of March 2010.

vi The Draft National Policy Statement for Ports was published by the DfT on 9 November 2009. The DfT's consultation closed on 15 February 2010.