For around five years airport operators have used strategic master plans as tools for aiding the growth and development of airports across the UK. The master plan process has helped them set out their development proposals; inform planners and communities about their future objectives; and engage with local and regional stakeholders.
Now the Department for Transport wants to replicate that success in the ports sector, so in December of last year we published guidance recommending that all major UK ports should produce master plans in consultation with their key stakeholders, and advising on how they might best achieve this.
What are the main priorities for port master plans?
First and foremost, each master plan should present a port’s broad strategic intentions over the medium to long term. It might discuss the port’s main markets and principal traffics of importance; its expectations for future traffic growth; and any predicted expansion of the port estate or changes in the way it operates.
The plan would also consider in some detail the impact of port activities – and especially of any future growth – on the local environment, community, economy and transport infrastructure, and how these impacts might be managed.
Most fundamentally, the master planning process helps to clarify a port’s strategic thinking, and provides a framework within which the future direction of the port can be considered. Given the operational demands of running a successful port, it can be all too easy for day-to-day matters to leave little time and space for strategic planning, perhaps harming the future competitiveness of the business, and delaying the lead-time for future projects.
Consulting with stakeholders
Consultation with stakeholders is an essential part of the process, and helps to ensure that plans are comprehensive, deliverable and sustainable.
In particular early consultation with local planning authorities and transport infrastructure developers can be an effective way to support the successful delivery of future development plans. For planning authorities, early engagement means that port expansion plans can be included in the relevant planning documents, while for transport infrastructure developers, early consultation provides more time and space to consider the port’s future infrastructure requirements.
Being open and transparent about future plans and engaging with local community groups, employees and port users will help to improve local working relationships and raise the profile of the port. It’s also likely to make the process of development approval much smoother since key groups will have been consulted, and their problems addressed, at an earlier stage.
In short, master planning provides an excellent opportunity to build key stakeholder partnerships that will be important for the long-term success of the port, as well as for clarifying the port’s intentions for the future.
Flexibility and timing to suit each port
Ports are diverse organisations – each with its own local issues, and each with its own way of doing business. The Department’s guidance does not attempt to set a fixed template for how UK ports should go about producing a master plan. Instead it lays out a set of pointers that a port may wish to consider when developing a master plan.