Thursday, 15 January 2009

Euro MPs warn over UK ports rates crisis

HIGHER charges in UK ports as a result of the huge business rates bills hitting port occupiers could see cargoes move to other EU ports and force more goods to be transported by air, three Euro-MPs have warned.

In a letter to local government minister John Healey, Liberal Democrat MEPs Chris Davies, Fiona Hall and Diana Wallis, representing North West, North East and Yorkshire/Humber, have now declared their support for the campaign against the new rating system in ports and asked Mr Healey to reconsider its implementation.

“We are concerned that the impact of this revaluation will particularly threaten the competitiveness of the ports in or regions of the northeast, northwest and the Humber,” they said.

The MEPs said two issues concerned them in particular.

“First, we believe that the rating revaluation will bring about extra costs and thus an increasing burden for ports on the east coast of England,” the letter said. “We believe these rising costs will see competition being lost to other EU ports which are in direct competition, not least to Rotterdam. The evidence provided by research into maritime logistics is that port cargo handling charges is one of the key determinants of competitiveness.”

The second concern was that higher charges in UK ports would force more and more goods to be transported by air. “International air freight traffic has increased substantially over the past few years, particularly in the transportation of foodstuffs. Air miles increased by 31% in 2006 compared with the previous year and has grown by 37% since 1992. Air freight is the highest emitter of CO2 per tonne of food and is responsible for 11% of emissions.”

The government has so far refused to back down on the rates crisis that is hitting statutory ports around England and Wales, in which port tenants are receiving massive and unexpected bills backdated by three years because the Valuation Office Agency failed to carry out the necessary revaluations by 2005.

The subject will be raised in the House of Commons next Monday evening, when Labour MP and transport select committee chairman Louise Ellman has secured an end-of-day debate. She will have 20 minutes to explain the main points to MPs.

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