If you’re a fan of megaships then all roads lead to Liverpool.
On November 4 a phalanx of VIPs, business leaders, politicians and football legends Sir Bobby Charlton and Kenny Dalglish gathered at the Port of Liverpool to watch the official opening of Liverpool2, which will be one of Europe’s most modern container terminals.
The £400m project is remarkable for lots of reasons, none more so than the fact it has reclaimed a 16-hectare site from the River Mersey that is big enough to house four of the North West’s biggest football grounds in Anfield, Etihad Stadium, Goodison and Old Trafford.
It’s now the home of five red 92-metre high ship-to-shore cranes that are able to load and unload some of the biggest vessels in the world.
Prior to the opening, Liverpool could only accommodate five per cent of all the world’s vessels but following the investment, which has included a new quay wall and dredging of a new 16.5m deep berthing pocket, Liverpool2 is equipped to handle 95 per cent of the world’s ships.
Even more impressive than the sight of the megaships that will soon be heading for Liverpool2 is the clever technology that you can’t see, which will enable lorry drivers to load or unload cargo without having to leave the comfort of their own cab.
However the biggest impact that the infrastructure scheme will have will be on rebalancing the UK logistics sector.
Currently more than 90 per cent of deep sea containers come into the UK via ports in the south but over 50 per cent of the goods inside are destined for the north.Liverpool2’s now offers a viable alternative to Felixstowe and Southampton and will reduce the carbon footprint by taking vehicles off the road and rail and providing northern UK-based exporters with a more competitive route to market.
It’s a huge undertaking but the parent company behind it – Peel Group – has a track record of delivering major infrastructure projects including the Trafford Centre and MediaCityUK.
Privately-owned and founded by entrepreneur John Whittaker, Peel Group covers sectors as diverse as land and property; transport and logistics; retail and leisure; energy and media, with assets owned or under management of more than £5 billion.
Peel Ports is a key division and is one of the UK’s largest port groups, owning and operating seven of the UK and Ireland’s most strategic ports.
It handles 70 million tonnes of cargo every year and is headquartered in Liverpool, employing around 1,200 staff.
Liverpool2 is an investment by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company Limited which is part of the wider Peel Ports Group.
The Peel Ports Group is in turn owned, 50.1 per cent by the Peel Group and 49.9 per cent by Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management (DAWM) – formerly known as Rreef Infrastructure.
The woman tasked with making sure it runs smoothly and explaining the state-of-the-art technology that sits behind Liverpool2 is Caroline Clark, business and automation process manager at Peel Ports Group.
Now an adopted northerner she moved up from Kent to oversee Liverpool2 and heads up the control room, which is at the heart of what goes on. Flat screen monitors are linked up to a series of cameras, which photograph container movements in and out of the port.
She says the project has moved Liverpool2 to “the top of the Premier League” of container terminals and it’s easy to see why.
“When it comes to automation this takes it to the next level,” she says.
Prior to the opening, the port could accommodate ships with a maximum capacity of 3,000 containers however Liverpool2 means it can service vessels with a maximum of 18,500 containers.
Ports measure containers in TEUs (20ft equivalent units) and Liverpool2 will be able to double its capacity to 1.5million TEUs. Only technology enables them to track all the container movements.
With the main route to the port being Dunnings Bridge Road, Clark says technology is also key to ensuring a smooth flow of traffic to prevent it becoming a bottle neck at peak times.
“The vehicle booking system we have means that every haulage delivery has to have an appointment,” she explains.
“We manage the number of appointments to ensure we can service them inside the site and get them out as quickly as possible,” she says.
“That way we’re not creating peaks of traffic.“
Details of the cargo are entered into the system. As the vehicle comes into the port it’s automatically photographed as is the driver. The system checks the code on the container and we make sure the seal at the back is intact.
Peel Ports invested £20m into new autogate technology which saw drivers dispense with the traditional paper-based system in favour of using personal ID swipe cards and biometric finger prints to gain access to the terminal to drop off, or pick up, containers.
The new system has cut the time it takes for drivers entering the port to leaving from 54 minutes to 32 and has been supplemented by the installation of a new Dynamic Axle Weighbridge, which weights all the containers.
However the technology is equally important for monitoring incoming vessels. Liverpool uses a Port Community System, which is computer system which allows hauliers, shipping lines, ports and customs etc to share information.
With the opening of Liverpool2, the imposing ship-to-shore cranes use lasers to scan the docked vessel to check the contents. All the cranes are fitted with multiple cameras and anti-sway technology.
The cranes move the cargo from the ships on to land, where they’re placed in a stacking area for a lorry to collect.
“People can track their own containers,” explains Clark.
“If you’re a shipping line you can log on to our system and see that your boxes are here , how long they’ve been here, what their status is. They can also log on and see KPI data. We are very transparent.
”Every lorry that picks up a container travels through a portal as it leaves and is scanned for radiation but for the vast majority of drivers the state-of-the-art technology means they’ll never need to set foot outside their cab.
“Given the level of investment it’s hardly surprising that Liverpool2 has attracted some big name support with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) the latest to enter into an agreement with the container terminal.
The deal creates a strategic alliance aimed at facilitating international trade and generating new business by promoting trade routes between Liverpool and the west coast of South America via the Panama Canal.
Peel Ports has also become one of the latest members of the government’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership Programme, which aims to champion the north’s strengths, as well as promote local developments across transport, skills and innovation, culture, and devolution.
Peel Ports CEO Mark Whitworth said: “Our £400m investment in Liverpool2 encapsulates the Northern Powerhouse vision. Ports are fundamental to the performance of the entire UK economy and this represents a massive growth opportunity, particularly for the northern economy.”