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Published: 13 June 2005      

Suezmax terminal for Bristol?

The Port of Bristol wants to build a new deepsea container terminal capable of handling ships up to 12,000 TEU.

The 100-acre facility at Avonmouth would offer 1200m of linear quay with 16m alongside on every tide and the approach channel at 15m below chart datum. The driver for this initiative, says the port's owner and operator, the privately-owned Bristol Port Company (BPC), is the shortage of deep sea container port capacity in the UK and the fact that most of the existing and prospective new capacity is located in the south east of England, where congestion is endemic and set to get worse.

BPC's chairman Terence Mordaunt stated that a number of leading shipping lines have encouraged the company to proceed with this project, particularly after ABP's Dibden Bay project was finally refused planning permission.

Assuming BPC obtain the necessary Harbour Revision Order and construction work began shortly thereafter, the first phase of the new facility could be in operation by 2008. It is costed at £300 mill, including all dredging and civil construction work, up to 10 67m outreach cranes, other superstructures and operating systems. Mordaunt says that BPC will proceed only on the basis of carriers committing to use the facility.

According to the BPC, Bristol is the closet port to the UK population as a whole, with a population of 37 million and 45 million living within 250 and 300 kms respectively, compared to 32 and 37 million within these distances from Southampton, the next closest port.

Similarly, Bristol is also closer to UK container O/D points than London, Southampton, Felixstowe or Liverpool. BPC believes that this gateway attraction will justify the deviation from Finisterre for a ship en route to, say, Rotterdam or Antwerp.

The port has excellent motorway access and the existing rail link into Avonmouth, already used for coal, cars and some container traffic, would serve as a near-dock intermodal railhead for the new deep water terminal, although capacity and high cube clearance issues still have to be clarified with Network Rail.

Feedering to Ireland or British "outports" is also a distinct possibility, since the existing shortsea lo-lo terminal at Avonmouth is close by and could be fed from the new terminal with a simple in-port terminal tractor dray.

Although some environmental objection are anticipated, BPC is hoping that these will not be a major obstacle given the nature of the Bristol Channel, and it has been working closely with English Nature to address environmental issues arising from the development.

Since it took over the then loss-making port from the local authority in 1991, BPC has acquired a reputation for "picking winners," and has built up a "portfolio" of cargo trades where it can compete successfully (eg new cars, coal, agri-bulks, shortsea containers). To date the company has invested £179 mill in developing and enhancing facilities and services and its joint venture partners such as RWE (ex-NPower) a further £162 mill.

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