THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor to discuss the future of the ports in Thurrock.
Ms Doyle-Price said: “I fully endorse the remarks of Matt Rodda; I think we are all looking forward to 2021 being a whole lot better than the year we are leaving. I also associate myself with what he said in the tribute he has paid to his community; we have seen the best of our communities in response to this pandemic, and I wish to pay tribute to everyone in my constituency for stepping up to the challenge and bearing a difficult year with great fortitude. Let us all hope that next year is so much better.
In that vein, I wish to talk about how we come back out of this crisis and to advise the House about the exciting plans we are making in Thurrock in our bid for a Thames estuary freeport, led by the ports of Tilbury and London Gateway. Members have often heard me claim that Thurrock is the port capital of the UK. As a centre of excellence for ports and logistics, there is no stronger case to be made than for a freeport to be located in Thurrock—[Interruption.] I am sure that my hon. Friend Sir David Amess will fully agree with that. It is the natural evolution of the role of the Thames as an engine of wealth creation and prosperity. We sit here in this Parliament on the Thames. London is a great capital city, one of the richest cities in the world, but it is located here only because of the Thames and because the Romans set up the port of Londinium. So it makes great sense in the natural evolution of history—of exploiting our River Thames and our position as a maritime nation—to make sure we continue that evolution and establish the Thames estuary freeport in Thurrock.
People often think that the ships have left the Thames, but the fact of the matter is that all they did was move east. Tilbury had the first container port in the country, in 1968, just before I was born—seamless history there. We now have Britain’s deepest sea port, which aims to be the biggest, at London Gateway; that has been the biggest inward investment in Europe, and opened within this past decade. I can also advise the House that we have Britain’s newest port, in Tilbury2, and that it took just one year between planning permission and the first ship arriving. If only all our public infrastructure projects were that efficient.
A little known fact is that the Thames remains Britain’s second largest port—second only in terms of tonnage landed to the Humber. We often hear people talk about Dover and other ports, but the port of London is still a significant one—it has just moved east to Thurrock. Having paid tribute to the entirety of my community and how they have responded to the challenge of covid, it has to be said that the ships that arrive in Tilbury and London Gateway are the ones that have kept us fed during this past year. The ships have continued to be unloaded and our dock workers have continued to go to work, and this is something we often take for granted. People are looking forward to finally leaving the European Union, and although we have heard much prediction of chaos and difficulty, I can tell them that the ports in Thurrock are extremely well prepared. As I said, they built Tilbury2 in the past year, specifically with the purpose of being Brexit-ready. I can advise the House that we already have ships relocating their routes from Dover to Tilbury to take advantage of what is a changed economic situation for how our ports will work. I think Members will see the great pride I have in representing what is our maritime capital. This is an astonishingly competitive sector, one with which it is a pleasure to work. It is also a pleasure because the ports invest hugely in the local community and are massively committed to increasing skills and to making that big community contribution, so it is a great delight for me to continue to support them.
That takes us on to what our freeport bid would look like. As I said, we have the port of Tilbury, which is owned by Forth Ports, which is obviously Scottish—again, it is good for the Union that we have this partnership—and London Gateway, which is led by DP World. So this is a partnership born out of two competitors, and it is a staggering feat for them to be taking this forward.
We also have another great opportunity. As I mentioned, the Thames as a port has moved east, but there are jetties all the way into London, including one at Ford in Dagenham. We all recall that for many decades Dagenham was a vast site and a massive car manufacturer. In recent years, that manufacturing presence has declined, not least because our car habits have declined. When some of the car production was moved to more competitive locations in the world, the site moved to manufacturing just diesel engines. Of course, demand for that is now falling off. Obviously, we want to keep Ford’s presence here in the UK and for it to play a bigger part, particularly as we leave the European Union and look to new global relationships.
I am therefore very excited to advise the House that not only have the two ports of Tilbury and London Gateway come together to discuss that, but we are working with Ford to see how a partnership can be formed so that we can develop a new centre of excellence for electric and autonomous vehicles. That is the future. That is exactly the kind of post-Brexit opportunity we should take full advantage of.
I very much hope that the Government will give their full support to the Thames estuary freeport, not least because for decades, successive Governments tried to get the Thames estuary moving as an economic entity. That never quite worked because we in south Essex do not really like being told what to do by people from London. We like to control our own destiny and that is exactly what we have done. The Thames estuary is an idea whose time has come. Our freeport will be the catalyst to make that happen and I look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the Thames estuary freeport underlines Thurrock’s position as the port capital of the UK.