The vision for the future of the Port of Sunderland - and how the Brexit debacle is delaying decisions

Brexit is forcing city leaders to delay decisions over the future of the Port of Sunderland.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 5:45 pm
Updated Friday, 23rd August 2019, 3:39 pm

A report on the council-owned facility has criticised a ‘legacy of underinvestment’ and underdevelopment and warned that doing nothing is ‘not an option’.

Options suggested include selling the entire operation, taking on a business partner or funding its own improvement projects at the 240-acre site, possibly by taking advantage of the council’s access to cheap government-backed credit.

But for Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller, a decision on the way forward is unlikely until after Halloween, when the UK is currently expected to leave the EU.

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The Port of Sunderland

“Private sector businesses just want certainty and there is currently no certainty in the market until we get the Brexit scenario out of the way,” he said.

“It would be foolish to make any decision on anything before then."

“At the moment [the port] works and makes money and there’s no harm in it staying doing that.”

Coun Miller declined to offer his own opinion on the direction he would like to see the port head in, adding he is ‘not a port manager’ and would wait to see the post-Brexit impact on demand on other North Sea and European ports.

Councillor Graeme Miller

The report for dockyard bosses said Sunderland had only ‘limited’ potential in the lucrative container shipping market, but could improve its offering to ‘roll-on/roll-off’ customers and the offshore wind industry.

Conservative opposition leader Coun Robert Oliver called for Sunderland to be designated a ‘free port’ under a proposed government policy to stimulate local economies by scrapping or slashing taxes in certain areas.

But the plans have plans have also faced criticism over claims they could facilitate money laundering or tax evasion.

Coun Oliver said: “With the Port having lots of potential in terms of rail and road links as well as unused land and a 24-hour deep-water facility, choosing Sunderland as one of the free ports would be ideal.”

He added: “Low-tax enterprise zones at Doxford and Washington have already boosted the local economy and creating free ports could also help narrow the gap with the South as most will be located in deprived areas.”