Port Pro of the month

Port pro of the month: Doug Bannister (GB)

28 June 2019

For this edition of ESPO’s Port pro of the month, we interviewed the new CEO of the Port of Dover. In what follows, Mr Doug Bannister will tell us about his vision on the port’s future, the impact of Brexit on the port, the environmental and societal initiatives the port is taking and many other interesting topics!

(c) Port of Dover

Can you briefly present the Port of Dover? What are its main characteristics and challenges?

The Port of Dover is Europe's busiest international roll-on roll-off ferry port, handling up to €136 billion of trade or 17% of the UK's trade in goods. The Port processes 2.5 million lorries, 2.3 million tourist vehicles and 12 million passengers per annum. Dover is also the UK's second busiest cruise port, welcoming over 25 cruise lines and around 200,000 guests each year. Our growing cargo business handles fresh produce, containers, project cargo, general cargo, grain and Ro-Ro traffic operating next to the world’s busiest shipping lane and on the quickest sea route to Europe. Marina and property businesses complete the portfolio.

The main challenge and characteristic is how we handle such a high volume of people and goods on a daily basis within such a small geographical footprint. In other words, what defines Dover is its unrivalled efficiency. It is a trade conveyor belt handling up to 180 kilometres of freight vehicles per day. That’s a line of trucks nearly all the way from Calais in France to Brussels in Belgium. It’s also the equivalent of being a busy international airport, handling passenger volumes on the same scale as leading regional airports across Europe.

What is your vision for the Port of Dover for the next decade?

We want to be the port of choice that sets the standard.

We already have decades of experience in operating a high intensity business. Customers and supply chains utilise Dover because of that, maximising the speed of crossing and the speed of throughput. Where I want to see us in ten years’ time is fully utilising that deep knowledge alongside technology and innovation to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operation. I want to ensure that the enduring economic advantages of Dover’s geographical position are matched by 21st century requirements for sustainability that ultimately delivers the best outcomes for all.

The Port of Dover is very dependent on trade with the European mainland. How is the Port of Dover preparing for the UK’s intended withdrawal from the EU by 31 October? What are the main challenges you expect to be confronted with? Do you have a message for both the EU and UK policy makers as the Brexit date is approaching?

You say that the Port of Dover is very dependent on trade with the European mainland, but I would turn the statement around to say that UK and European trade is very dependent on the Port of Dover’s ferry operation. There is no substitutable capacity that can take the type and volume of goods handled by Dover. Two thirds of Irish exporters use the cross-Channel routes to get goods to Europe. Dover and Calais are the only two “core ports” categorised by the European Union as connecting the peripheral region of Ireland with mainland Europe – we both received significant EU funding to develop our facilities because of it. 2,500 trucks a day carry automotive parts between assembly lines in the European mainland and the UK via Dover. 

Then we have our growing cruise business with a 35% increase in cruise calls in 2018 and our deep sea general cargo business which enjoyed a 39% increase in tonnage last year and is the focus of our current €280 million western docks development.

But returning to the ferry business, our focus has been on working to keep people and goods moving. We have worked for the past two years with ferry operators, sister ports and border agency partners to deliver our own contingency preparations for continued fluid operations within the Port’s ferry terminal. This has been based on our extensive knowledge of handling high volumes and different forms of disruption to cross-Channel traffic movements.

We have consistently advised the EU and governments on the need to keep borders open and the consequences of not doing so.

We have put significant resource in place and have had our whole organisation (including office staff) ready to work round the clock to get customers through as quickly as possible. We are prepared.

With each ship on this route able to make five round trips a day, Dover can offer a sailing frequency that other ports simply cannot. And this frequency provides the choice and flexibility that passengers and logistics businesses need. Brexit will not change geography and that applies to both sides of the negotiation. What we need is some certainty about the future trading environment in order that we can accommodate any changes in our future planning to ensure continued and long-term success.

(c) Port of Dover

You are currently preparing a masterplan until 2045. Is this still possible to define a strategy so far ahead given the rapidly changing world and economy?

Port of Dover was the first UK port to undertake a comprehensive 30-year master plan. Within the UK, the Dover masterplan is today seen as a template for ports in order to plan for a successful future. Indeed it has helped us plan and deliver the capacity needed to handle significant growth.

For major international gateways, be they ports or airports, the cost and type of infrastructure provision requires a long-term view under which sit shorter-term development decisions to lead to the realisation of the ultimate vision.

Of course, a masterplan must consider future levels of demand, the trading environment and the wider economy, but a good masterplan also builds in flexibility to allow for changing circumstances within an overarching framework that provides adequate clarity on major investment decisions. Crucially it involves customers and a whole host of key stakeholders in its evolution so that everyone is heading towards the same goal.

The United Kingdom’s port landscape is dominated by ports that are in private ownership. The Port of Dover is however owned by the UK government. What are the advantages of being a state-owned company? Are you facing any competition issues with ports that are in private ownership?

The Port of Dover is actually a trust port – something unique to the UK port industry. We are neither public nor private. Essentially we make profits as any business does, but we have no shareholders and so the money we make is put back into the business to improve it for future generations. This allows us to balance the interests of all our stakeholders – our customers, our community, our staff and the national interest.

As many ports do, we face competition from other UK ports (and the Channel Tunnel) and EU ports across our areas of business. Some of the privately owned major UK port operators have been trying to take advantage of the Brexit concerns being raised about the cross-Channel routes. What must be understood is that even to try and attempt to divert just 10% or 20% of Dover’s ferry traffic away to other UK ports could cost €2.8 billion (according to renowned international economic consultancy Oxera). That cost would ultimately fall to EU and UK consumers. But the capacity just isn’t there and the routes are too long. Plus it doesn’t deal with the 80-90% of Dover’s traffic that still needs to move. Governments understand that ensuring that the most effective route to market remains just that is the best outcome. What’s more, we know from previous experience that when traffic has tried to go elsewhere if Dover is disrupted, it has quickly come back again to enjoy the unrivalled geographic advantages once the disruption has passed.

The Port of Dover is mainly known for its ferry business. However, it is also England’s second busiest cruise port. How is the cruise business evolving in your port? What are the main challenges?

The cruise business is thriving. We have over 25 cruise lines calling. Following major growth last year, we have even more ships calling this year. The challenge is to keep pace with demand, but that’s a nice challenge to have. We are currently completing a major investment that will allow us to take more cruise ship calls. 

Saga Cruises is holding the naming ceremony for its first new-build here in July 2019 and Virgin Voyages recently announced that Dover would be the first ever port of call for its Scarlett Lady cruise ship in February 2020, showing the diversity of the cruising portfolio here.

(c) Port of Dover

The Port of Dover is located on the North-Sea Mediterranean Corridor of the Trans-European Transport network (TEN-T). How has being part of this corridor been of benefit to the port? Has the Port of Dover been awarded any projects in the last years?

We worked in a special partnership with the Port of Calais on a project called BRIDGE (Building the Resilience of International and Dependent Gateways in Europe). As the two core ports connecting Ireland with mainland Europe as identified by the corridor, this classification has assisted both ports in securing significant European funding to develop both short-term capacity to effectively handle substantial growth and deliver the infrastructure blueprint for long-term capacity demand.

A considerable share of the goods that is traded between the European mainland and the UK is being transported via ferries through the Port of Dover. In order to get the goods to the desired destinations, good hinterland connections to the port are of paramount importance. Can you briefly describe how the port is being connected to the hinterland?

As a port authority, the Port of Dover provides the in-port infrastructure but is just one piece of the logistics chain. There are a number of pieces that must all work in harmony, such as the ferries, the borders and of course the hinterland road connections.

The Port of Dover is served by two strategic roads – M20/A20 and M2/A2. These roads link the port with London and the road network beyond to the rest of the UK and ferry services across to Ireland.

Half of the trucks using Dover travel beyond London, so it is crucial that they can travel past without any delays caused by the general volume of traffic associated with a capital city. The UK government is currently progressing plans to invest in a major new Thames river crossing that will support this aim. We are highly supportive of this but we also need a critical investment around Dover in order to maximise its benefits. This is a scheme known as A2 Lydden-Dover dualling – currently a five-mile section of single carriageway. 

The new Thames crossing will naturally encourage more port-bound traffic down the M2/A2 and so in order to maximise the resilience of the overall road network and the benefits of the new Lower Thames Crossing, a second lane is required to cope with the additional traffic without affecting local traffic movements. This will help us ensure goods continue to flow between the UK and mainland Europe.

(c) Port of Dover

What are the main focal points of your port’s environmental policy? Do you intend to conduct any environmental projects in the near future?

Dover has been at the forefront of environmental port policy for a number of years. We were the first EcoPort – a European initiative to raise awareness of environmental protection through the sharing of best practice between ports. Dover was also the first port to receive the Port Environmental Review System (PERS) certification – the only port sector specific environmental management standard.

The Port of Dover holds the Carbon Trust Standard, the world’s leading independent certification of best practice regarding an organisation’s environmental impact. The water quality in the harbour is excellent and in line with the criteria of the Bathing Water Directive. We do not send any of our general waste stream to landfill and the exhaust emissions from ferries are low.

We are absolutely committed to pro-actively managing and delivering a sustainable port operation that will minimise environmental impacts, promote good environmental practice and ensure the service of the Port’s future generations.

Looking to the future, our western docks development, the biggest single investment we’ve ever made has also focused on sustainability during specification, design and construction. Adopting the CEEQUAL assessment, the international evidence-based sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme for civil engineering and infrastructure, the development has already achieved an “excellent” rating that will permeate into the operation of two new deep water berths, a refrigerated cargo terminal and a new marina.

Overall, our aim is to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% each year, working towards a zero carbon future.

The theme of this years’ ESPO Award, which will be handed out on 13 November in Brussels, is “Transparency and the role of social media in reaching out to the local community.” Does the Port of Dover have a communications strategy in place to reach out to the local community? Which initiatives are you taking in order to enhance the relationship with the local community?

The Port of Dover has a comprehensive strategy for engaging, supporting and integrating with the local community. This has evolved over the last few years and is driven by our corporate social responsibility approach, which seeks to align how we conduct our business, how we fulfil our obligations and how we create valuable opportunity for our local community. It is an approach we see as self-perpetuating and has a number of elements.

First of all, it is how we engage and consult with our community. We do this in a numbers of ways. We have a regular Port & Community Forum, a formal consultation forum that is independently chaired by a member of the local community. It meets several times each year to promote positive engagement between the port, local residents and community representatives on a range of issues. We also employ extensive community consultation processes for any major plans; holding workshops, giving presentations and hosting weekly drop-in sessions for example. This has been very successful in garnering community support for our €280 million western docks development.

Then it’s how we utilise the port estate to bring port and community together. We organise a number of flagship community events, the two main ones being the Port of Dover Community Regatta in the summer and the White Cliffs Christmas festival in the winter featuring a large real ice rink, Christmas market, Santa’s grotto, rides, festive food and drink in our historic Cruise Terminal 1 building. These events take advantage of our award-winning seafront, harbour and heritage buildings, bringing thousands of local people here to share a good time with us.

From utilising our existing estate, we have also looked to create new public spaces for people to enjoy. Our western docks development has recently delivered a new 500 metre pier in the harbour – this is already attracting young and old, walkers, cyclists and joggers. And we are creating the longer-term opportunity for an area of bars, cafes and restaurants around a new marina. During the construction phase, the project has delivered €177 million of local economic benefit with hundreds of local jobs.

Then there’s the focus on developing local skills to create our workforce of the future. We have a broad programme of apprenticeships covering areas such as business administration, mechanical and electrical, maritime, construction, project management and cyber security. We also have a bursary scheme that financially supports local students at university alongside work placements at the port.

Finally, we have our Port of Dover Community Fund. After four years of activity, the fund has supported 50 local organisations with 76 projects through over €600,000 of grant funding. Supporting young people, employability skills and the overall social, cultural and environmental life of local communities, the fund is bringing people together and helping to raise aspirations with the port at the heart.

At our recent Annual Consultative Meeting, local community attendees actually started apologising for having nothing bad to say and asked us to keep up the good work! So that’s a great sign of where we are heading.

(c) Port of Dover

Since 1 January this year you are leading the Port of Dover. How did you get into maritime transport? How did your career path lead to this position?

My career in maritime transport started many years ago working ships on the New York waterfront. This not only gave me a great grounding in the operations, but also a great passion for our industry. With the vast majority of the world’s trade transported by ship, all players have a profound role in facilitating global prosperity. The fact that it is, largely, an unseen industry for consumers, means that we often have challenges in ensuring people understand our importance to their well-being.

Since then I have had opportunity to live and work all over the world for leading transportation companies like P&O Nedlloyd and Maersk. More recently I have led sea and airports businesses at Jersey in the Channel Islands.

The attraction to Dover was twofold. First it is an iconic operation, and one of national importance. The intensity and pace of the Dover operation is unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is exciting to be in charge of such a business. The second is Brexit, a once in a generation event requiring profound changes in the way nations trade. Dover is at the heart of UK / European Union trade and will be for many decades to come, which provides us with an incredible platform to help educate and inform people about the importance of maritime transport to their lives.

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