With Brexit looming large, firms like Kingfisher and Next are adapting in an attempt to mitigate the impact to trade routes.
Brexit is already changing the way goods come into this country, a host of businesses have told Sky News.
As the October 31 deadline for Brexit approaches, many importers have shifted from using Dover as their main port of entry to using other ports, including the Humber ports. Some have switched from using lorries (known in the trade as roll-on roll-off cargo) to using containers instead.
Throughout the post-referendum period there has been much focus on the challenges facing Dover, which could face congestion and tailbacks along the M20 motorway in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Dover’s constraints – its reliance on accompanied roll-on roll-off cargo and its shortage of space for “stacking” lorries in the event of delays – have led some to assume this will be the case in all ports.
However, speaking to Sky News, Simon Bird, Humber Ports Director at Associated British Ports said: “I absolutely do know there is some trade that is moving from roll-on roll-off through that Dover-Calais link to the container operations that we have here on the Humber.”
He added that with plans underfoot to provide more parking space for lorries, the Humber ports “certainly have well developed plans to cope with any eventuality….we have more capacity here to handle what might materialise on day one of no-deal”.
A number of retailers, including DIY firm Kingfisher and clothing brand Next, have said in recent weeks that they have made plans for diverting their goods via different ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Next said while it had little cargo coming in via Dover, “as a precaution we have already taken measures to move most of that traffic to alternative ports or airports”.
These accounts are borne out by broader statistics on trade which show volumes at Dover falling since the referendum while most other major British ports have seen an increase. In 2018 Dover had just under 2.5 million lorries passing through – the lowest number since 2014.
Economics editor @EdConwaySky
Fears over the capacity of Dover to cope with freight traffic in a no-deal Brexit scenario has seen trade re-routed into Humber ports but Dover’s “unique demands” mean contingency plans have focused on Kent, the Department for Transport said.
Associated British Ports, which owns the ports at Hull, Immingham and Grimsby, has reported increased trade through its docks after a major investment in its infrastructure at Hull, and Dafydd Williams, its regional head of communications, said Brexit preparedness was important for economic growth.
“At ABP, we are poised for growth and we are doing what we can to ensure a free flow of trade in the event of a no-deal,” he said.
With just two months left until Brexit, freight and ferry firms lack clarity on administrative requirements after March 29.
Mr Williams said: “What’s really important for us is that our customers know which pieces of paperwork they need in advance and that’s what we really need to see happen.”
He went on to explain that 2018 had seen major business growth at ABP’s Humber container terminals, partly as a result of Brexit, saying: “As people have heard about potential delays at Dover, they have looked at alternatives and the Humber is seen as a good opportunity. “Last year we invested £50m in our port at Hull and we have seen the number of ships rise from five sailings a week to 15 a week based on a large amount of re-routing.”
Guidance issued by the DfT explained that freight operating through Humber ports is less likely to be time sensitive compared with often high urgency freight coming through Dover.