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UK ports share in car building boom

As UK car manufacturers return to levels of production not seen since the financial crisis, the boom is having some unexpected consequences. Around 80% of UK car production is exported, which means that our ports are getting increasingly busy. Now, one port has got so busy that it is proposing to buy the nearby military docks in order to cope with the increased demand. The Port of Southampton is a major operation at 700 acres.

As UK car manufacturers return to levels of production not seen since the financial crisis, the boom is having some unexpected consequences. Around 80% of UK car production is exported, which means that our ports are getting increasingly busy. Now, one port has got so busy that it is proposing to buy the nearby military docks in order to cope with the increased demand. The Port of Southampton is a major operation at 700 acres. The increase in car handling is so great that it has already built four multi-deck storage facilities and a fifth is due to be opened by transport minister, Stephen Hammond, in December this year.

The port at Southampton has seen its car handling business increase by 72% from 2009, reaching 439,000 cars last year. This car handling makes up a large proportion of the port's business and accounted for 31% of all car exports. In total, the port handled 650,000 vehicles in 2012 and expects to move even more this year, as port director, Doug Morrison, confirmed: "This year, we'll probably do 750,000. Most of the growth is coming from exports, to the Far East in particular."

The port at Southampton is owned by Associated British Ports and processes cars for import and export from makers such as BMW, Ford, Honda and Renault. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is also a major customer and the port handles 60% of that company's exports. JLR has had an astonishing turnaround in fortunes under new owner, Tata, and exports most of its production. That growth is what has caused the port to look at acquiring the neighbouring military port at Marchwood. Mr Morrison added: "Nothing I'm hearing makes me think the growth is going to stop. The port is forecasting a 30pc rise in car traffic over the next three years. We are the only port in the UK that's been forced to use multi-decks for new car business because the land isn't available. For obvious reasons we look very longingly at Marchwood."

The MoD has looked at selling the site and leasing it back but Mr Morrison still thinks a deal could be done to suit both parties. He said: "If we acquired Marchwood, we would be able to create around 400 jobs. That would help offset some of the losses from the shipyard in Portsmouth, which BAE is closing. It would also allow some reorganisation of the port, whose plans to expand its container operations at Dibden Bay were blocked in 2004."

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