Getting Brexit right for Portsmouth International Port is vital
If Portsmouth port is expected to relieve Dover in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the local area needs answers on everything from cost to congestion, says Stephen Morgan
There has been much talk and coverage in the media in recent weeks about stacking arrangements on the south coast under a no-deal for Portsmouth international port.
As the only MP who attended an important briefing for parliamentarians at the start of the year with police, local authority leaders and members of the region’s resilience forum, it is clear the headline-grabbing M3 plan ruled out by Chris Grayling was nowhere near the top of the list of options for those so crucially involved in the planning arrangements. That story is a mere distraction from the real issues at play here.
No-deal would be disastrous for our nation, and for jobs in Portsmouth and my city’s economy. Research by the Trade Policy Observatory reveals 43,000 jobs across Hampshire and Sussex will be put at risk. Airbus, also in Portsmouth, has said it would make things “very harmful for decisions in the UK”.
The local resilience forum, chaired by Hampshire constabulary, which brings together local public sector partners, has been doing its job preparing for all eventualities while this government botches Brexit in Westminster.
That work involves thinking through the risks for Portsmouth and the region if there is an increase in traffic and lorries as a result of diversions from Dover. But the work of the forum is hampered not only by uncertainty from government, but lack of resources to properly plan.
Partners have identified not the M3 as their priority, but land much closer to home in Portsmouth, at Dunsbury Farm. The council has calculated that option would need investment of anywhere between £1.2m and £8m. We cannot expect council tax payers to cough up these sums when local services have been decimated in recent years, with the revenue grant slashed and overall budgets reduced by nearly 50%. The council enquired about government grants, to be told that only a loan was available.
Similarly, senior bosses at the port have expressed concerns that there has been little communication and planning from the Department for Transport and other government departments – an opinion shared by the Public Accounts Committee and other regional ports. At a time of uncertainty and risk, this national to local dialogue is essential.
And if no-deal happens and Portsmouth sees an increase in traffic, what will that mean? Delays at the port would see 90% of fresh produce for the Channel Islands affected, with empty shelves in the supermarkets of Jersey and Guernsey in 24 hours.
It means the risk of traffic congestion in the most densely populated city after London, and it jeopardises the port’s profits – putting over £7m of funding to local public services in doubt.
It is for these reasons the Brexit secretary’s recent words to Andrew Marr about this very issue were very telling, and reminded us all how vital it is for the government to listen and engage with local authorities and their partners.
Sadly, in Portsmouth these agencies don’t think the government is doing so. The Brexit secretary said “no one wants a no-deal scenario”. Why, then, is his government refusing to rule it out? It’s costing us £175,000 per hour.
Getting it right for Portsmouth international port is vital. Being the second busiest port in the UK, and one of our nation’s most successful ports, its success is Portsmouth’s success.
That’s why I will continue to engage, and get the answers we need for Portsmouth.
Stephen Morgan is Labour MP for Portsmouth South