This article is from the June 2012 issue of Total Politics
With the overwhelming majority of UK imports and exports transported through the nation’s sea terminals, ensuring they are up to high international standards is a necessity. The increasing size of ships is causing problems, with many ports in the UK unable to allow mega-tankers and container vessels to dock safely due to their bulk and reduced manoeuvrability. In Southampton, this has become a major issue, with large container ships unable to use the port and the area, consequently, losing business. Alan Whitehead’s ongoing commitment to expanding the port, and his determination to secure the £150m funding grant to assist in the development, has earned him this month’s accolade.
This is an important issue to those in Southampton, with the promise of the creation of several hundred jobs if the shipping hub is updated. The development will also ensure that Southampton remains a major container port for the next 20 years, and does not risk becoming irrelevant, like other former shipping ports.
The development has been in the planning stage for several years, with bureaucracy and disputes holding up the funding approval. Explaining the delays, Whitehead says that the applications had taken an age to go through. “It’s been a couple of years since the original application was put in by the port to do this expansion work, and there were several hurdles to clear. You need a multitude of permissions to get that done.”
He adds that it was important that these considerations were properly scrutinised, particularly the environmental ones. A lengthy discussion with the Marine and Maritime Organisation (MMO) was vital, he says. One of the major ecological concerns was the potential impact of works on the salmon running and spawning season on the River Test. “You’ve actually got a fairly limited window of opportunity to start the work [due to the fish’s breeding patterns],” Whitehead explains.
There were other issues that prevented earlier approval of the plans, such as objections from other major UK container ports that feared the competition. The MMO was concerned about action from rival ports, such as Hutchison Ports/Port of Felixstowe that were worried about potential lost revenue. Whitehead described the MMO as “treading extremely carefully”, to such an extent that windows for development could have been lost. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to become involved later in the process to discuss how the delays could be overcome.
Whitehead rejects the idea of damaging the trade of other ports, suggesting that there would be enough business for everybody. He says: “I personally regard this as a national infrastructure arrangement, rather than advantageous for just one port.”
He argued passionately that the development was “absolutely essential” to the Port of Southampton’s future. Without the development, larger ships would not be able to use the docks and would have to go elsewhere. He explains: “You add a limit on the container vessels that you can accommodate, in terms of size, and they will either go somewhere else or may not even come to the UK at all.” He contrasts Southampton to other ports around the country that have not been able to modernise and adjust to new shipping demands. If they don’t address new berthing requirements, he fears, they soon fall into “obscurity” and are no longer used.
However, Whitehead has not had to fight the battle alone to secure funding. He had support from fellow Southampton MP John Denham. Together, they brought the issue up in Parliament to ensure that the shipping minister was aware of the difficulties Southampton was facing. It was particularly important to raise awareness and stress how important the necessary funding was – and, in particular, its importance for Southampton constituents.
The port development campaign has been a success for Whitehead, and though he believes the delays were largely unnecessary, he is happy that the financial resources were finally granted to ensure a better economic climate in the Southampton area. The importance of the development to the rest of the UK was not lost on him, either – far more than just his port will benefit. “It is vital,” he says, “to Southampton port, and vital on a much wider scale as well.”
From the editor
Alan Whitehead had to push the expansion plan through several bureaucratic bodies, repeatedly, to try and ensure that the port would receive its allocated funding. The MP for Southampton Test and fellow Southampton MP John Denham used an adjournment debate to bring the issue to the attention of DEFRA ministers. After all their efforts, it was one of the final methods they used to secure the £150m investment.
Whitehead also employed several other parliamentary techniques, including securing personal meetings with ministers, to ensure that this hugely important port regeneration project received the necessary consideration. The determination and commitment to secure the funding despite multiple obstacles ensured that Whitehead is our MP of the Month.
Louise Mensch - Conservative MP for Corby
Louise Mensch receives an honourable mention for standing up to online bullies, including dealing with a man on Twitter threatening to kill her children. She also attracted violent criticism for her opposition to aspects of the recent culture, media and sport select committee report into phone hacking. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mensch berated social media users who abused her, explaining it was important to “call bullies out”.
She pointed out that abuse directed at women was almost always sexual or violent. As a very active MP on Twitter, it is unfortunate that Mensch has had to deal with unacceptable levels of threats and vilification. For standing up and naming those who participated in the Twitter tirade, Mensch has received praise from the media and fellow MPs.
Greg Mulholland - Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West
This month, Greg Mulholland receives a nod for his tireless charity work for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. This year was the tenth year of the appeal, and to mark the anniversary, Mulholland ran the Paris Marathon before embarking on a 600-mile cycle journey via Yorkshire to London.
He finished the challenge by completing the London Marathon. The total distance he travelled was a staggering 652 miles. Finishing as the fastest MP in the London Marathon, Mulholland also managed to raise over £4,000 for charity. The funds raised went to three worthy charities, including the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, Kidz in Kampz and The Leeds Rugby Foundation.
Hazel Blears - Labour MP for Salford and Eccles
For her tireless work on the Clare’s Law campaign, Hazel Blears has been nominated by her colleagues. Named for Clare Wood, who was killed by a partner she did not know had a history of domestic violence, the campaign has led to the introduction of a one-year pilot of a disclosure scheme.
Blears has spent the last 12 months lobbying for this project, which, in four areas across the country, will soon give people the ‘right to know’ if their partner has a recorded history of domestic violence. In a ringing endorsement of Blears’ determination on this issue, the government consultation found that 85 per cent of respondents supported the introduction of a procedure like this.