Alan Whitehead – 2018 Speech on Air Quality and Shipping Emissions

Below is the text of the speech made by Alan Whitehead, the Labour MP for Southampton Test, in the House of Commons on 29 March 2018.

It is a sad occasion that I cannot entirely join in the good wishes of the Deputy Leader of the House for the Easter Adjournment, because I am still here, along with you, Mr Speaker, and indeed a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members who have come to hear this debate and possibly to intervene briefly. I am very appreciative of their taking the time to stay behind, and indeed, of the Minister for coming along this afternoon to hear the last Adjournment debate before we finally start our Easter recess.

The city that I represent is home to one of the UK’s largest ports. Southampton’s thriving port hosts large numbers of container vessels, roll-on/roll-off ships transporting vehicles, and many general cargo ships, along with being the main UK base for cruise ships. In just the next five days in Southampton, more than 60 large vessels are due to arrive at the port, including five cruise ships, nine large vehicle/ro-ro vessels and 10 large container ships. They are all very welcome to the port. Southampton port is not just a great asset to Southampton, but is a national trading and passenger asset in its own right.

The ships are varied in size, content and function, but they all have one thing in common: when they are in port, often for several days at a time, they keep themselves going—their heating, lighting, power and so on—by running their engines and on-board generators as if they were at sea. During that period, a cruise liner, particularly, will consume an enormous amount of fuel—estimated to be some 2,500 litres of diesel per hour—in running its generators and keeping facilities in good order for perhaps 3,000 or 4,000 passengers. If we take account of the crew members and all the other people who are on the vessel, a cruise liner in port in the middle of Southampton running its engines in this way might be likened to a small town, perhaps the size of Romsey, turning up in the middle of a city and running exclusively on diesel generators, with all the consequences that that has for nitrous oxide and particulate emissions across the area.

At the same time, Southampton is one of 18 cities in the UK facing possible infraction proceedings because of air quality issues in the city. Measures are under way in Southampton on the basis of commendable action by the city council to get a grip on air quality, including a future clean air zone for the city centre. The port of Southampton is working hard on its shoreside emissions. The port overall can be extrapolated as contributing overall perhaps some 25% of total emissions—of nitrous oxide, sulphur and particulates—but to date, it has not been able to do anything about the central fact of ships berthed in the port.

However, something can be done and indeed is being done in a number of ports across the world—that is, to plug vessels arriving in port into the port’s mains electricity system, so that a ship can switch off its engines and rely on shore power to do the job. Ports in a number of parts of the world, including the United States, the far east and some parts of Europe, have installed shore-to-ship ​electrical supplies—essentially a very large plug deriving electrical supply from local power that goes into an equally large socket on the ship at berth to take over the running of the ship’s power in port.

Shore-to-ship power is a very simple and relatively low-cost alternative to ships powering themselves when in ports close to densely populated areas. It also, potentially, makes money for ships at berth, since it is far cheaper for them to run on local power than to burn bunker fuel while in port. It certainly saves on emissions: a recent study in the United States showed that cruise vessels using shore power in one location saved 99% of their nitrous oxide emissions and between 60% and 70% of particulate emissions. Increasing numbers of vessels visiting ports in the UK now have the equipment on board that allows them to plug in. The problem is, though, that there are no shore facilities installed in Southampton, or indeed in any medium or large commercial port anywhere in the UK.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab) My hon. Friend is making a very strong case for the argument he outlines. Does he believe that the absence of the shore-to-ship power supply is caused by a lack of regulation? Will he come on to what the shipping companies are expected to be able to do in terms of plugging in? Is it the responsibility of the port? Have the Government legislated on what ought to be the best practice in ports?

Dr Whitehead My hon. Friend has raised some important points, and I shall touch on some of them in a moment. There are currently no regulations that would mandate the introduction of shore-to-ship power, although it is possible that European Union directives could be used for the purpose.

To the credit of Southampton port, it is looking into whether it can install facilities in one cruise liner berth, but, as far as I know, it is alone in that. No other major port in the United Kingdom is following suit. The arguments that are presented for doing nothing about it are multiple and familiar. It is argued that not enough ships have the facilities to “plug in”, so it would be a waste of money, or that it is too expensive to take the plunge unilaterally, or that there are other ways in which emissions from ships might be reduced.

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab) My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. As he will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and I have concerns about the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal that is planned for East Greenwich. In that instance, the developer is saying that the cruise liner company with which it is working does not have the necessary technology. Is there not a role for the Government here? Could they not regulate to encourage cruise liner companies to upgrade and retrofit their fleets so that they can utilise this option when ports and terminals take it up?

Dr Whitehead There is certainly a case for doing that. In California, regulations require a certain proportion of ships visiting ports to use shore-to-ship facilities. However, in California the facilities are already there.

The arguments for doing nothing have some limited grounds, but unless the facilities are there, ships will have no incentive to equip themselves to use them, and, ​as I have said, there is currently no mandate for their use. Equipping a berth for large vessels would cost about £3 million, and fully equipping all Britain’s major and medium-sized ports would probably come to about £100 million.

Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op) Before I came to this place, I was a deputy executive member on Leeds City Council, and I attended many workshops with Southampton city councillors where I heard those same arguments. It was said that Southampton and other city councils were too hard pressed to introduce such measures. Does my hon. Friend agree that they are doing all that they can, but need Government support?

Dr Whitehead I do agree, and in a moment I shall refer to the support that the Government might be able to provide. If we are to roll out shore-to-ship power across the country, we shall need a combination of stick and carrot.

The £100 million that I have just mentioned would, however, largely be recovered—eventually—in fees in subsequent years, because ships coming into port would be charged for the electricity that they used, although it would be cheaper for them than using their own bunker fuel. It is true that some companies are making an effort to modify the fuel that is used by generators when ships are in port so that they run on, say, liquid petroleum gas rather than diesel or bunker fuel, but nothing comes close to the benefit of shore-to-ship supply.

So how can we make a break in the apparent stand-off that currently exists in the UK? Ports may be aware that shore-to-ship power is beginning to happen seriously around the world, and ships are increasingly turning up ready to go, but everyone is looking over their shoulder to see whether anyone else is moving first. It might, commendably, be Southampton—although even then the initiative is for only one berth, which is a start but leaves a long way to go—but Southampton should not be in such a position.

My central call this afternoon is for Government to take the lead in the creation of a level playing field for all ports in the UK for shore-to-ship installations by giving notice of an intention to mandate their use in ports by a specified date and, if I can venture a suggestion, to place aside a modest fund to assist ports in installing the necessary equipment over the specified implementation period.

That is not exactly a novel idea, because an EU directive already exists—directive 2014/94/EU, to be precise, known as the alternative fuels infrastructure directive or AFID. It says this on shore-to-ship power, in article 4(5):

“Member States shall ensure that the need for shore-side electricity supply for inland waterway…and seagoing ships in maritime and inland ports is assessed in their national policy frameworks. Such shore-side electricity supply shall be installed as a priority in ports of the TEN-T Core Network, and in other ports, by 31 December 2025”.

Article 4(6) states:

“Member States shall ensure that shore-side electricity supply installations for maritime transport, deployed or renewed as from 18 November 2017, comply with the technical specifications set out in point 1.7 of Annex II.”

The Government have consulted and responded to the consultation on the directive, except that in the consultation they have scrupulously put the implementation of article 4(6) into train by insisting that statutory operators​
“must ensure that new or renewed shore side supply installations must comply with certain technical standards”.

Frankly, I imagine that that will be fairly easy to comply with given that none exist. Of course, there is not a mention in the consultation or response of the rather more difficult point made in article 4(5).

In other words, as far as I can see, the Department does not intend to do anything about that. So my other call this afternoon—or rather perhaps a question—is about why the Department has apparently ignored one of the central points of the alternative fuels directive. Does it intend to put that right and get on with a programme of installing shore-to-ship charging before we are no longer mandated to do so at the end of the transition period of leaving the EU? Or does it just intend that such a mandate might just slip away and get lost after our exit from the EU is complete? If the latter is the case, that will be a sad outcome both for Southampton and all the populations of the ports around the country who welcome and support the port activity in their towns and cities but want those ports to be contributors to the health and clean air of their cities rather than detractors.

I hope that the Minister has a positive response for me this afternoon so that I can wish her, as well as everybody else, a happy Easter.

Jim Fitzpatrick I sensed that my hon. Friend was heading to a conclusion. At the beginning of his speech, he said how important the port of Southampton is for the wellbeing of the city, so will he confirm that this is not an attack on shipping, which is a fundamental industry for the UK economy? Members want to support shipping and are asking the Government for leadership in ensuring that shipping is more environmentally friendly and clean in the future. That will mean that when new cruise terminals are proposed for places such as the centre of London, people will welcome that because of the economic benefit it will bring and because they know that it will operate on an environmentally clean basis.

Dr Whitehead My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I want to emphasise a little more. The presence of the port and all the activity that goes on with it are wholly welcomed in Southampton. I am sure that that is exactly the same in other cities that are close to and host major ports in the UK. Those cities do not want to see the end of those ports; indeed, they want to see development and thriving arrangements. All the boroughs around those cities have a joint interest in ensuring that the ports thrive as best they can. Over the years, Southampton has been substantially supportive of the growth and development of the port, but we want ports to work on the same basis as everyone else, cleaning up the air around us and ensuring that we can live in an environment that is conducive to the thriving of those ports for the future.

Hoping that the Minister has a positive response for me this afternoon, I will end with the thought that that response will literally enable my constituents to breathe more easily.