CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'THE DIBDEN BAY CONTAINER PORT'

A Note by Julian Lewis MP – January 1999

1. Although my views, concerns and proposed tactics have been set out in articles, letters and reports in the Lymington Times, New Forest Post, Waterside Herald and Southern Daily Echo, I am happy to summarise them here.

THE PROBLEM

2. If a container port is built at Dibden Bay, its main adverse effects will be:–

(a) massive traffic loads on the Waterside road and rail links, with major effects also on Totton and Marchwood residents;

(b) a danger of huge and unsightly installations – especially container stacks – with noise and artificial light impact especially on Hythe residents;

(c) damage to the natural environment which has developed since Dibden Bay was created.

3. Tribute must be paid to the way in which ABP has turned the great port of Southampton into a major national asset, particularly since the abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme which had previously blocked a return to profitability. There will be a predisposition on the part of the Government to view the proposed development of Dibden Bay as a container port as a strategic economic decision. Added to this is the fact that there may be a tendency by this Government to favour the urgings of a Labour-controlled city rather than those of the Waterside where the Labour party is relatively weak.

4. If the Government decides, on strategic economic grounds, that a container port should be built at Dibden Bay, it is unlikely to allow this to be blocked by any of the considerations set out in paragraph 2 above. That is why it is essential not to adopt an "all-or-nothing" approach to opposing this scheme.

THE "TWIN-TRACK" POLICY

5. For this reason, I have always stated that our opposition to the scheme must proceed on a double track. First, we should make the strongest possible case for the container port not to be built at Dibden Bay. Yet, if this is the only thing we do, we will be forcing the Government to give us either total victory or total defeat. If the Government decides that the port should be built, then we will have lost everything. It is, therefore, essential also to identify those conditions which we say must be met even if the Government overrules our best efforts to avoid having the port built at all.

6. In my view, the most important and unshakeable proposition is that which is summed up by the phrase "if Southampton wants the port, then Southampton must take the traffic into and out of it".

7. Our case must be that the only reason why Southampton can argue for the port to be sited on the west of the waterway is that there is no room for it on the east. If there were room for it on the east, there would be no question but that all the containers would be carried in and out on Southampton's rail and motorway system. If the city managed to convince the Government that the port must be sited on the Waterside, that is still no reason for also inflicting the terrible traffic burden on Totton and the Waterside as well.

8. There are three ways in which this can be avoided: a bridge over Southampton Water, a tunnel below it or the off-loading of containers from ships at Dibden Bay directly onto barges for ferrying across the water. A bridge might be a toll bridge. A tunnel might be of the prefabricated type, with sections laid in an excavated trench in the seabed. (A service tunnel already exists under Southampton Water, though not on the scale required.)

9. There is every reason to hope that, even if the Government felt that it had to approve the port being at Dibden Bay, it would agree to save our communities from terrible traffic blight by sealing off the port from the landward side and making entry to and exit from it via Southampton in one of the three ways just described.

10. It is one thing for a Government to overrule our interests because it feels that the economy must have a container port, but quite another to destroy our quality of life when much of it could be preserved by building a bridge or a tunnel. One is an issue of economic strategy, whilst the other is simply a matter of cost.

11. Naturally, ABP will try to argue that my proposals are not practicable (what that will really mean is that they will cost a lot of money that ABP does not want to spend). Indeed, there is a significant prospect that, if ABP were told by the Government that they could have their container port but that they would have to make a substantial contribution to the cost of a bridge or a tunnel, they might then suddenly decide that maybe they could re-structure their arrangements in such a way that the extra container capacity desired could be achieved without developing Dibden Bay after all.

CONCLUSION

12. It can thus be seen that a twin-track approach may succeed in preventing the port from coming to Dibden Bay, whilst a single-track policy of opposition to the port alone may be doomed to defeat. Our aim must be:–

(a) to persuade the Government not to build the port there and/or

(b) to persuade ABP that, even if the Government gives permission for the port to be built at Dibden Bay, the costs involved make it sensible for an alternative solution to be found.

13. If the worst came to the worst and the port did proceed, having a tunnel or bridge or barges would still be a far better outcome than if the huge quantity of container traffic passed through Totton and Marchwood, and disrupted the Waterside.

14. Finally, in assessing my approach to the problem, I ask residents to put themselves in the shoes of the people at ABP. If you were trying to get this port built, which would you prefer: a single hurdle to jump (put up by those who simply say "No port – no negotiations – nothing"), or a series of hurdles consisting of the need not only to win permission for the port but also to keep the traffic away from the Waterside by one or other of several expensive methods?

15. Those who advocate a single-track policy are playing into the hands of ABP. Those who adopt my approach are maximising the chance of the port not being built, whilst minimising the impact on our communities if the port is built despite our best efforts to prevent it.