The UK is inextricably tied to the seas that surround it. Some 95 per cent of all trade is carried by ship and through UK ports; half a trillion pounds-worth of goods pass through our ports each year
With less than 200 days left until Brexit, and regardless of the type of deal agreed with Europe, the maritime sector will be key to delivering prosperity through trade. At the centre of the sector lay our coastal communities.
Often overlooked and underappreciated, these communities are the heartbeat that pumps global trade. However, an ever-widening range of social and economic indicators has put distance between these communities and their inland counterparts.
Connectivity is key for coastal communities
One vital change needed is investment in better connectivity. The development of transport connections to our ports should be considered equally as important, if not more so, as the other major transport infrastructure operations currently underway, such as High Speed 2, Crossrail and the expansion of London’s airports.
Once you leave the port gate, you see that connectivity to the main markets and to the other ports is poor. There is not enough capacity on our rail network, most of the motorway network has to operate beyond capacity and there are too many constrictions on the road network to allow for the efficient transfer of goods.
Increasing the volume of coastal shipping – moving goods on ship around different parts of our coastline – could also help, but the development context needs to be right. Many post-industrial coastal communities are crying out for redevelopment, and their proximity to ports and the sea make them uniquely attractive for manufacturing, distribution and as centres for maritime innovation and collaboration.
Investing in maritime could be a savvy move
We need a planning framework that preserves waterfront access for innovation and leisure marine. UK ports will do their bit, investing £2 billion over the next five years if the planning and development environment is right. Industry is also preparing a national rollout of aligned and co-ordinated regional maritime cluster hubs, which bring industry, academia and local government together to collaborate, foster innovation and drive growth.
The government expects the “blue economy” to double in value to $3 trillion between now and 2030 and coastal communities are well placed to drive that growth. A brand new, national initiative for collaborative maritime research and innovation is being launched called Maritime Research and Innovation UK. This innovative arm of Maritime UK brings together many of the UK’s leading research and innovation assets with a growing number of UK companies from across the sector. Government matching funding to get this initiative off the ground will speed up progress.
And that investment in maritime is a smart bet. The maritime sector holds a unique advantage in productivity, 53 per cent higher than the national average. On top of this, the average maritime sector job generated £77,897 in value to the economy in 2015, a third more than the average job in the UK. Growing the sector in coastal communities, where productivity and other socio-economic indicators often lag behind the rest of the country, is a valuable mission.
Investment brings new growth to coastal communities
The benefits of effective investment can be seen across thriving coastal hubs in the UK, such as Albert Docks in Liverpool, Gun Wharf Quays in Portsmouth and Plymouth’s Oceansgate development. Investment in key areas of technology, academia and connectivity has bought renewed growth and opportunity to these areas. We know this coastal focus works, but the UK must do more.
Open Europe has identified £41 billion of untapped potential trade partners for the UK outside Europe. Our coastal powerhouses sit in a unique position to tap into significant growth opportunities and to benefit from increased trade, as well as becoming centres of maritime innovation, manufacturing and leisure marine.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform our coastal communities, and industry and government, working together, can make it happen.