Chris Grayling urged to act to ensure Humber port no-deal readiness

Ports on the Humber run by Associated British Ports handle more than 65 million tonnes of cargo every year. Picture by Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images.
Ports on the Humber run by Associated British Ports handle more than 65 million tonnes of cargo every year. Picture by Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images.
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Inadequate preparations for a no-deal Brexit at the Humber’s ports would be “grossly irresponsible” and would cause economic damage to the country as a whole, warned Hull North MP Diana Johnson amid concerns over the Department for Transport’s approach.

Hull was listed among six ports to be the focus for modelling of freight traffic in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario early last year, according to a letter sent to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Hull MPs by the Humber Local Resilience Forum.

But according to the group, at a meeting on January 14 this year its chairman Chris Blacksell was told by officials from Mr Grayling’s department that no modelling whatsoever had been undertaken for potential congestion in the Humber area.

In its letter to Mr Grayling, the Humber Local Resilience Forum said that prior to that meeting it had been trying to clarify the outcome of any modelling by the DfT since early autumn.

It was only at the recent meeting that Mr Blacksell, chief executive of Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, was told the DfT would not carry out the same modelling for the Humber as that which had been undertaken for Dover, and even if lower level modelling was done it would take “several weeks” to carry out.

According to the forum, at the meeting, officials said they were aware of significant numbers of extra staff having been taken on at ports in Rotterdam but that the DfT had not contacted port operators to find out if they anticipated delays in turning around ferries servicing the Humber.

DfT figures also suggested they were unaware of requirements for customs checks prior to goods being loaded for export from the EU; a process that could cause extra delays for vehicles arriving at Humber’s ports.

With Britain’s exit from the European Union due on March 29, Hull MP Ms Johnson said she was concerned about the situation, with all three of the city’s MPs urgently seeking a meeting with Mr Grayling.

She said: “Whatever anyone thinks about Brexit and leaving the EU without a deal, it’s vital that adequate preparations are made to enable the Humber Ports and our roads infrastructure to cope with any such eventuality.

“The consequences of failing to prepare, especially in terms of potential traffic congestion, would damage our regional and national economy. It would be grossly irresponsible.”

The Humber Local Resilience Forum wants Mr Grayling to act to ensure Hull’s ports are fully prepared in the event of a no-deal Brexit following promises from DfT officials that, by January 18, they would clarify if Highways England’s regional teams had been advised not to implement “stack operations”, other than in Kent, and that they would provide “a clear, reasonable worst-case scenario” for the number of vehicles which might need to be stacked - held in traffic jams - due to traffic into ports along the Humber.

Writing to Mr Grayling, the forum said: “Given how critical our need for this information has now become, we would ask that you personally ensure that DfT carry out that work... because HLRF are rapidly running out of time to implement stacking plans if they are needed.”

Without this information, the forum said it would work to a plan of stacking significant numbers of vehicles on motorways.

In a statement, the DfT would not confirm if it had carried out the actions it promised by January 18.

A DfT spokesman said: “The Department for Transport is carrying out targeted contingency planning, focusing efforts on areas that may present challenges in the event of no deal. We expect the vast majority of our ports to experience no disruption.

“We regularly engage a wide range of companies and ports across the country and will continue to discuss how the Government can support the development and growth of the maritime industry.”

FOCUS FALLS ON DOVER

At the start of January, the Department for Transport trialled how it would deal with traffic jams around Channel ports in the event of UK border disruption from a no-deal Brexit.

But the exercise was branded a pointless farce by critics after just 89 lorries were involved in a test of Manston Airport as a giant HGV holding bay.

Kent County Council had earlier warned that some 10,000 lorries may be held on Kent roads on a routines basis if there is a no-deal.

The situation on the Dover Strait is unique, the Department for Transport said, due to the “exceptionally high” volume of HGVs using the port, its frequency and rapid turnaround of ferry services and space restrictions.