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Air Quality and Shore-to-Ship Charging

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mims Davies.)

It is a sad occasion that I cannot entirely join in the good wishes of the Deputy Leader of the House for the Easter Adjournment, because I am still here, along with you, Mr Speaker, and indeed a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members who have come to hear this debate and possibly to intervene briefly. I am very appreciative of their taking the time to stay behind, and indeed, of the Minister for coming along this afternoon to hear the last Adjournment debate before we finally start our Easter recess.

The city that I represent is home to one of the UK’s largest ports. Southampton’s thriving port hosts large numbers of container vessels, roll-on/roll-off ships transporting vehicles, and many general cargo ships, along with being the main UK base for cruise ships. In just the next five days in Southampton, more than 60 large vessels are due to arrive at the port, including five cruise ships, nine large vehicle/ro-ro vessels and 10 large container ships. They are all very welcome to the port. Southampton port is not just a great asset to Southampton, but is a national trading and passenger asset in its own right.

The ships are varied in size, content and function, but they all have one thing in common: when they are in port, often for several days at a time, they keep themselves going—their heating, lighting, power and so on—by running their engines and on-board generators as if they were at sea. During that period, a cruise liner, particularly, will consume an enormous amount of fuel—estimated to be some 2,500 litres of diesel per hour—in running its generators and keeping facilities in good order for perhaps 3,000 or 4,000 passengers. If we take account of the crew members and all the other people who are on the vessel, a cruise liner in port in the middle of Southampton running its engines in this way might be likened to a small town, perhaps the size of Romsey, turning up in the middle of a city and running exclusively on diesel generators, with all the consequences that that has for nitrous oxide and particulate emissions across the area.

At the same time, Southampton is one of 18 cities in the UK facing possible infraction proceedings because of air quality issues in the city. Measures are under way in Southampton on the basis of commendable action by the city council to get a grip on air quality, including a future clean air zone for the city centre. The port of Southampton is working hard on its shoreside emissions. The port overall can be extrapolated as contributing overall perhaps some 25% of total emissions—of nitrous oxide, sulphur and particulates—but to date, it has not been able to do anything about the central fact of ships berthed in the port.

However, something can be done and indeed is being done in a number of ports across the world—that is, to plug vessels arriving in port into the port’s mains electricity system, so that a ship can switch off its engines and rely on shore power to do the job. Ports in a number of parts of the world, including the United States, the far east and some parts of Europe, have installed shore-to-ship electrical supplies—essentially a very large plug deriving electrical supply from local power that goes into an equally large socket on the ship at berth to take over the running of the ship’s power in port.

Shore-to-ship power is a very simple and relatively low-cost alternative to ships powering themselves when in ports close to densely populated areas. It also, potentially, makes money for ships at berth, since it is far cheaper for them to run on local power than to burn bunker fuel while in port. It certainly saves on emissions: a recent study in the United States showed that cruise vessels using shore power in one location saved 99% of their nitrous oxide emissions and between 60% and 70% of particulate emissions. Increasing numbers of vessels visiting ports in the UK now have the equipment on board that allows them to plug in. The problem is, though, that there are no shore facilities installed in Southampton, or indeed in any medium or large commercial port anywhere in the UK.

My hon. Friend is making a very strong case for the argument he outlines. Does he believe that the absence of the shore-to-ship power supply is caused by a lack of regulation? Will he come on to what the shipping companies are expected to be able to do in terms of plugging in? Is it the responsibility of the port? Have the Government legislated on what ought to be the best practice in ports?

My hon. Friend has raised some important points, and I shall touch on some of them in a moment. There are currently no regulations that would mandate the introduction of shore-to-ship power, although it is possible that European Union directives could be used for the purpose.

To the credit of Southampton port, it is looking into whether it can install facilities in one cruise liner berth, but, as far as I know, it is alone in that. No other major port in the United Kingdom is following suit. The arguments that are presented for doing nothing about it are multiple and familiar. It is argued that not enough ships have the facilities to “plug in”, so it would be a waste of money, or that it is too expensive to take the plunge unilaterally, or that there are other ways in which emissions from ships might be reduced.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. As he will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and I have concerns about the Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal that is planned for East Greenwich. In that instance, the developer is saying that the cruise liner company with which it is working does not have the necessary technology. Is there not a role for the Government here? Could they not regulate to encourage cruise liner companies to upgrade and retrofit their fleets so that they can utilise this option when ports and terminals take it up?

There is certainly a case for doing that. In California, regulations require a certain proportion of ships visiting ports to use shore-to-ship facilities. However, in California the facilities are already there.

The arguments for doing nothing have some limited grounds, but unless the facilities are there, ships will have no incentive to equip themselves to use them, and, as I have said, there is currently no mandate for their use. Equipping a berth for large vessels would cost about £3 million, and fully equipping all Britain’s major and medium-sized ports would probably come to about £100 million.

Before I came to this place, I was a deputy executive member on Leeds City Council, and I attended many workshops with Southampton city councillors where I heard those same arguments. It was said that Southampton and other city councils were too hard pressed to introduce such measures. Does my hon. Friend agree that they are doing all that they can, but need Government support?

I do agree, and in a moment I shall refer to the support that the Government might be able to provide. If we are to roll out shore-to-ship power across the country, we shall need a combination of stick and carrot.

The £100 million that I have just mentioned would, however, largely be recovered—eventually—in fees in subsequent years, because ships coming into port would be charged for the electricity that they used, although it would be cheaper for them than using their own bunker fuel. It is true that some companies are making an effort to modify the fuel that is used by generators when ships are in port so that they run on, say, liquid petroleum gas rather than diesel or bunker fuel, but nothing comes close to the benefit of shore-to-ship supply.

So how can we make a break in the apparent stand-off that currently exists in the UK? Ports may be aware that shore-to-ship power is beginning to happen seriously around the world, and ships are increasingly turning up ready to go, but everyone is looking over their shoulder to see whether anyone else is moving first. It might, commendably, be Southampton—although even then the initiative is for only one berth, which is a start but leaves a long way to go—but Southampton should not be in such a position.

My central call this afternoon is for Government to take the lead in the creation of a level playing field for all ports in the UK for shore-to-ship installations by giving notice of an intention to mandate their use in ports by a specified date and, if I can venture a suggestion, to place aside a modest fund to assist ports in installing the necessary equipment over the specified implementation period.

That is not exactly a novel idea, because an EU directive already exists—directive 2014/94/EU, to be precise, known as the alternative fuels infrastructure directive or AFID. It says this on shore-to-ship power, in article 4(5):

“Member States shall ensure that the need for shore-side electricity supply for inland waterway…and seagoing ships in maritime and inland ports is assessed in their national policy frameworks. Such shore-side electricity supply shall be installed as a priority in ports of the TEN-T Core Network, and in other ports, by 31 December 2025”.

Article 4(6) states:

“Member States shall ensure that shore-side electricity supply installations for maritime transport, deployed or renewed as from 18 November 2017, comply with the technical specifications set out in point 1.7 of Annex II.”

The Government have consulted and responded to the consultation on the directive, except that in the consultation they have scrupulously put the implementation of article 4(6) into train by insisting that statutory operators

“must ensure that new or renewed shore side supply installations must comply with certain technical standards”.

Frankly, I imagine that that will be fairly easy to comply with given that none exist. Of course, there is not a mention in the consultation or response of the rather more difficult point made in article 4(5).

In other words, as far as I can see, the Department does not intend to do anything about that. So my other call this afternoon—or rather perhaps a question—is about why the Department has apparently ignored one of the central points of the alternative fuels directive. Does it intend to put that right and get on with a programme of installing shore-to-ship charging before we are no longer mandated to do so at the end of the transition period of leaving the EU? Or does it just intend that such a mandate might just slip away and get lost after our exit from the EU is complete? If the latter is the case, that will be a sad outcome both for Southampton and all the populations of the ports around the country who welcome and support the port activity in their towns and cities but want those ports to be contributors to the health and clean air of their cities rather than detractors.

I hope that the Minister has a positive response for me this afternoon so that I can wish her, as well as everybody else, a happy Easter.

I sensed that my hon. Friend was heading to a conclusion. At the beginning of his speech, he said how important the port of Southampton is for the wellbeing of the city, so will he confirm that this is not an attack on shipping, which is a fundamental industry for the UK economy? Members want to support shipping and are asking the Government for leadership in ensuring that shipping is more environmentally friendly and clean in the future. That will mean that when new cruise terminals are proposed for places such as the centre of London, people will welcome that because of the economic benefit it will bring and because they know that it will operate on an environmentally clean basis.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I want to emphasise a little more. The presence of the port and all the activity that goes on with it are wholly welcomed in Southampton. I am sure that that is exactly the same in other cities that are close to and host major ports in the UK. Those cities do not want to see the end of those ports; indeed, they want to see development and thriving arrangements. All the boroughs around those cities have a joint interest in ensuring that the ports thrive as best they can. Over the years, Southampton has been substantially supportive of the growth and development of the port, but we want ports to work on the same basis as everyone else, cleaning up the air around us and ensuring that we can live in an environment that is conducive to the thriving of those ports for the future.

Hoping that the Minister has a positive response for me this afternoon, I will end with the thought that that response will literally enable my constituents to breathe more easily.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) on securing this important debate on shipping emissions and, in particular, on shore-to-ship charging. I agree that our maritime ports should continue to thrive, and we are all here to ensure that that happens. I had the privilege of visiting Southampton during the first few weeks in my new role as maritime Minister, and since then I have met a number of shipping stakeholders that operate out of the port. I know the port’s importance to the city and the local economy, as it provides up to 15,000 jobs in the Solent region and thousands more across the UK. I believe that it is also the world’s busiest port.

I also know the importance of air quality to the city, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue today. We know the harmful effects that poor air quality can have on human health, the economy and the environment. It shortens lives and reduces quality of life, especially for the most vulnerable. Reducing air pollution to protect the environment and public health is unquestionably a priority for the Government. The UK has signed up to ambitious, legally binding targets to reduce emissions of the five most damaging air pollutants by 2020 and 2030, aiming to cut early deaths from poor air quality by half.

The debate has focused on shipping emissions. To date, the UK’s main priority in tackling ship emissions has been at the international level. We have played, and continue to play, a leading role in negotiating international limits for pollutant emissions from shipping. The UK has consistently pressed for the most stringent controls in those high-risk areas. UK ports such as the port of Southampton have been the beneficiaries of that action. Being within the North sea emissions control area means that the city and residents of Southampton benefit from some of the most stringent international controls on shipping emissions in its surrounding waters. Since January 2015, all vessels operating in that area must use either 0.1% sulphur fuel or a compliant alternative, and from 2021, all new ships operating in this area will need to meet the most stringent NOx emissions standards, which we expect to reduce NOx emissions from ships by around 75%.

Those international controls are having a major positive impact on air quality, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to go as far as we can on this. The controls have been successful in achieving major emissions reductions, and in stimulating the development and uptake of alternative fuels, innovative green technologies and new ship designs. That said, we are not complacent and we know that much more needs to be done and can be done. At the international level, the UK is strongly pushing for an ambitious and credible strategy to reduce greenhouse gases from shipping, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to support the UK’s efforts to get a strong and forward-thinking agreement at the International Maritime Organisation as we enter the final weeks of negotiations after Easter. Furthermore, we will continue to press for international action that will enable the uptake of low and zero-emission technologies. However, we also want to ensure that we are doing all we can to reduce emissions in UK waters.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is developing a clean air strategy that will look at actions to reduce pollutant emissions across the board from manufacturing to farming, and from generating energy to transport. This will be published for consultation shortly, so all stakeholders will have the chance to contribute on this important issue. My Department has been working closely with DEFRA and the maritime sector to develop proposals within the strategy to further reduce shipping emissions.

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about Southampton and recognise that the city faces a serious challenge to improve its poor air quality. In the 2015 air quality plan, Southampton was named as one of the five initial cities that were expected to produce local plans to achieve compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits by 15 September 2018. In July 2017, the Government announced £255 million for local councils to accelerate their air quality plans as part of a £3.5 billion commitment on air quality and cleaner transport. The Government are supporting Southampton City Council to conduct its feasibility study and to implement measures to deliver compliance in the shortest possible time. I also know that Southampton port is actively developing ways of reducing emissions across the port, and that it is considering shoreside power as an option to deliver air quality improvements.

We must recognise, however, that reducing shipping emissions is a complex issue, and experts concur that there is no silver bullet. Shoreside electricity is one of a number of solutions. Some of them are very well established, such as using liquefied natural gas, scrubbers and NOx catalysts. Others are still being trialled and applied on a small scale, such as hydrogen, electric batteries and hybrid solutions. We are, for example, seeing an ever-increasing number of ships that are capable of using LNG. The choice of which technology to deploy and invest in will primarily lie with shipowners and ship operators, but ports also have a role to play. Ships often rely on ports to provide access to alternative fuels, but ports will equally rely on ships installing technologies to ensure that the provision of such fuels is commercially viable.

I am aware that ports across the world are beginning to make provision for cleaner, alternative fuels. Some have chosen to introduce shoreside power, and there are many examples of good practice across the UK. A number of ports offer LNG bunkering, such as Teesport, Immingham and Southampton, and others are exploring the use of hydrogen, such as Orkney. The Port of London Authority has published an air quality strategy with the objective of addressing air quality on the tidal Thames and has introduced measures such as a discount on fees for greener ships calling at the port.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned infrastructure. Our national policy statement for ports requires new port developments, especially nationally significant infrastructure projects, to consider the provision of alternative fuels as part of the planning process. In particular, they are required to make reasonable advance provision for shoreside electricity, or to explain why that would not be economically and environmentally worth while.

We must recognise, however, that the business model for UK ports is different from that in many other countries. UK ports are private entities and decisions about operations or infrastructure are a commercial matter for each port to decide. We know that ports such as Southampton will decide the best solution for them based on the needs of their customers and their stakeholders.

I mentioned before that my Department was developing a maritime air quality strategy to feed into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ clean air strategy. My officials are engaging with stakeholders to understand the best approach to reduce emissions, and we are working with industry, academia, trade bodies, ports and other Departments to ensure that any strategy is credible and time-proof. As part of that, we are clear that we need a strong evidence base about the impact of shipping on the environment to inform decisions about the best solutions to reduce pollutant emissions from ships, and we need to ensure that any solutions to reduce pollutant emissions are not dealt with in isolation, but support the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We consider that a holistic strategy is the best way to enable the long-term goal of zero-emission shipping in the UK.

Such an ambition provides real opportunities for UK industry in the development of green technologies and fuels. The UK is home to a wealth of expertise in maritime technology, and we want to exploit the technical and innovative excellence of our sector to lead such a change. The Government want to continue to encourage innovative ideas to help to create a more sustainable maritime sector. Last December, the transport technology research innovation grant—T-TRIG—competition offered funding for targeted calls for projects addressing maritime air quality issues. We received 14 applications and have selected five projects, two of which I believe are in Southampton and Leeds—the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) made an intervention earlier. These will receive grants of around £50,000 each to help to take their early-stage innovations to the next stage of development.

My officials are actively working with the maritime sector to develop an industrial strategy sector deal that has innovation at its core, and we are supporting the development of an industrial strategy challenge fund bid that is based around smarter and cleaner ships. Southampton is a great city to live and work in, with a fine maritime tradition. By virtue of being inside the emission control area, the people of Southampton already benefit from the strictest international controls on ship emissions currently available in Europe. SOx emissions from ships have reduced dramatically since the introduction of the emissions control area and, as I indicated, further benefits that will come from the introduction of the lower NOx limit, which comes into force in 2021.

More change needs to happen and collaboration is paramount. It is about commitment across the sector: shipping companies, ports, shipbuilders—everybody has a role to play in improving air quality. I can assure the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that the Government are committed to addressing the issue of air quality in the UK. My Department is committed to reducing emissions from transport and I am committed to ensuring that the maritime sector plays its part in that.

As this is the final debate before Easter, may I wish everyone who works in the House—this mother of all Parliaments—a very happy Easter? And if I may be indulged, Mr Speaker, may I especially wish my daughter, Farah, a very happy Easter indeed?

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.