Why the new Liverpool2 complex will be a gamechanger for the Northern Powerhouse

The new port facility will be a major building block in creating the Northern Powerhouse

The new port facility will be a major building block in creating the Northern Powerhouse - Credit: not Archant

A huge development on the Mersey aims to reduce cost, carbon and congestion – and to create hundreds of jobs. Martin Pilkington reports

Prime Minister David Cameron with David Huck and Peel Ports CEO Mark Whitworth

Prime Minister David Cameron with David Huck and Peel Ports CEO Mark Whitworth - Credit: not Archant

The situation needed action: while 60 per cent of all containers brought into Britain are destined for the north, 90 per cent of them land in Southampton and Felixstowe. In December this year Peel Ports’ massive new Liverpool2 complex comes into operation, and will address that anomaly from day one.

‘It’s been a long time in the planning,’ said David Huck, port director UK and Ireland for the Peel Ports Group. ‘We applied for what’s called a harbour revision order many years ago. When the secretary of state awarded that it enabled us to build a deepwater container terminal in the River Mersey that allows us to handle the largest ocean-going containerised vessels right here in Liverpool.’

Construction of the new facility began in 2013, a process that involved making their own land. ‘We’re reclaiming land from the Mersey roughly the size of the four stadia of Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United together,’ David added. ‘We are creating a new bit of Britain in the North West – if you fly into Manchester and Liverpool airports you can see it from above. It is one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the UK currently.’

The statistics are equally eye-catching. Liverpool today can handle ships carrying up to 4500 TEUs (the trade works in Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – or standard containers to the layman). Liverpool2 is designed to cope with vessels bearing 13500 and more – so called Panamax ships that can be 290m long. The suffix ‘max’ gets another outing for the unloading equipment, with eight Megamax ship-to-shore cranes capable of reaching 20 boxes (about 60m) across the vast craft, and grabbing the top ones stacked ten containers up. Behind them another 22 rail-mounted gantry cranes shift the units around the site.

‘They’ll be semi-automated, controlled remotely by joystick,’ David said. ‘It’s a world class terminal and a world class terminal-operating-system, a major technological investment.’

The IT systems represent £10million of Peel Ports’ spending, and the handling systems another £100million. The high-tech equipment includes further automation on the gates, designed to smooth the flow of trucks through the terminal and thus reduce any impact on the surrounding area. To deal with the freight, some 400,00 sq ft of new warehousing is being constructed between Manchester and the Liverpool Docks estate, and along the Manchester Ship Canal construction recently began on Port Salford, where some containers destined for Manchester and its hinterland will be shuttled by water. It’s a big deal.

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The word transformational is not out of place in describing the project, given its expected impact on the northern economy and on transport throughout the UK, reducing the miles containers travel, thus in David’s neat phrase also reducing ‘cost, carbon and congestion’. It’s expected that 500 direct jobs will be needed to run the facility, with freight-forwarding, engineering, and other services adding perhaps another 5000.

‘We’ve had an awful lot of government support for this initiative,’ David said ‘We’re at the leading edge of the Northern Powerhouse which aims to rebalance the economy, which is very much what Peel’s about. This helps put the North West back on the global stage in terms of its connectivity.

‘Liverpool is a great solution for the UK in general and in driving the Northern Powerhouse in particular, a great location with ten motorways within ten miles of the port, plus rail and the ship canal. That all helps in transferring the cargo efficiently and giving the South East a run for its money.’

Peel Ports’ investment fits within a plan that carries on 20 years and more into the future. In the meantime, Liverpool2 will make a difference from the outset, and is a clear demonstration of intent. ‘The North West Powerhouse is alive and kicking,’ David said. ‘What the region needs is a great entry and exit port with world class capabilities, and that’s what we’re bringing to Liverpool and the North West.’

A prime site

On a visit to the site last year David Cameron emphasised its strategic significance. ‘Liverpool2 will allow the biggest container ships in the world to unload their cargo via Merseyside,’ he said. ‘So many of the big container ships come into southern ports such as Southampton and Tilbury. Yet so much of that freight is destined for the north of the country. This new terminal in Liverpool will ensure that freight can come directly to the north of England.’

Liverpool2 in numbers

500 direct, 5000 indirect jobs anticipated

42 acres/17 hectares of new land created

New quay wall 854m long

Berthing pocket 62m wide

£300 million Peel Ports investment within £500 million programme in North West