Monday, June 10, 2013

New Deep Water Container Shipping Port Announces First Tenant for Logistics Park

Prime Minister on Hand to Greet the Announcement
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – Today at London’s rapidly developing London Gateway deep water container port, which continues literally growing out of the Thames mud, the presence of the Prime Minister meant that something worthwhile was obviously happening. In the light of the revelation that DP World, the Dubai group whose project this is, had signed up the first customer for the logistics park, those of us familiar with the project were instilled with the feeling that the first of some very large dominoes was in the process of tumbling. The news that Marks & Spencer has committed to occupying up to a million square feet, in a port where its new distribution centre will sit mere metres from the container stacks, may well be a game changer for the face of UK imports and exports.

A look at the guest list of dignitaries invited to the event was even more revealing in terms of what may lay ahead. Buried amongst the host of government officers that habitually trail the PM on any trip were the names of other huge corporate customers, but this is a port which, up until now, has not named any shipping companies willing to commit vessels to the new Thames destination. The square footage which M&S has taken, at what is planned to eventually be the largest logistics park in Europe, may very well mean that the cork is now decidedly out of that particular bottle, and the who’s who of container line shipping executives who were present suggests that several major lines, many with an Asian bias, are showing an intense interest in the possibility of an alternative UK port call after it opens for business at the end of this year.

His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman DP World, welcomed both the Prime Minister and M&S to the new port saying it was a great time to talk about global trade in an outstanding location which would contribute to the UK economy by providing a more efficient and more reliable global supply chain infrastructure. Mr Cameron’s speech was suitably up beat when speaking of Britain’s ambition and comparing London Gateway to the Olympics success story and other great global infrastructure projects constructed overseas, saying the Government was matching it with investment such as HS2 and continuing: 

“The UK is seeing an era shift in technology….we see competition more intense than ever before involving more countries than ever before, we are in a global race in which the pace has quickened. How will Britain compete? We must roll up our sleeves and get on with it and not be afraid to unashamedly pursue our national interests.”

Speeches from the senior executives of DP World firstly outlined the 2,000 years of maritime history on which the site is based before explaining what the company had achieved with their Jebel Ali project, constructing a port considerably off the main trade routes, yet by being prepared to invest both money and twenty years of hard work they had turned the project into a major regional success story and saying that in London they were committed to be similarly determined. This was welcomed by the UK’s Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Michael Fallon who reassured the company of government support as it seeks to grow the project in the years to come.

The main news today however was all about Marks and Spencer with Chief Financial Officer, Alan Stewart, speaking of how M&S intended to turn a British brand into a truly international one. He said he felt this tenancy was a ‘key step’ for the group and that the placement of a more centralised distribution centre could cut delivery times from port to store from 2 weeks to just 3 days. Encouragingly he also said the company intended to use London as an export point for ambient foodstuffs, textile goods and furniture.

Mr Stewart explained that, as with its Castle Donington centre, M&S would ensure the new hub conformed to the company’s ‘Plan A’ environmental policies which includes 180 commitments to be achieved by 2015, in order to fulfil the corporate ambition of becoming the world's most sustainable major retailer. In addition to this M&S are also committed to the Princes Trust Foundation ‘Start’ initiative which M&S have extended from its original environmental targets to include a hiring policy.

This addition means that of the 700 or so M&S will employ at the new centre full time many posts will be offered, not only to disabled applicant, but with a view to getting people, particularly local youngsters, into work. Mr Stewart concluded:

“We shall commence construction in the New Year with completion in around two years’ time. Marks & Spencer are delighted to be the first tenant for this new logistics park.”

Photo: CEO of DP World Mohammed Sharaf (far right) shares a moment of levity with the assorted dignitaries including Michael Fallon MP, Minister for Business and Enterprise (3rd from left) and Alan Stewart of M&S (next on right). In the centre (with sunglasses) is His Excellency Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman DP World.