The Largest Ports in the UK
Brexit has impacted trade flows from Ireland and will continue to do so over time. However, the UK landbridge and ports in the UK will continue to be important transport nodes for Irish importers and exporters, and the UK will inevitably continue to be Ireland’s largest single trading partner.
These are the largest ports in the UK of importance to Ireland.
Port of Immingham
The Port of Immingham is located on the east coast of England on the Humber estuary, almost directly east from Dublin via Liverpool and Manchester. It is the largest UK port handling over 55 million tonnes of cargo per annum and has recently expanded its capacity.
It can handle a wide variety of cargo types including agribulk, automotive, construction, containers, bulk energy, liquid bulk, rail freight, offshore wind, ferries and metals. This makes it vital to UK trade with the continent, but less so for Irish container-based cargo using the landbridge.
Port of Felixstowe
The Port of Felixstowe is located in Suffolk on the UK’s South East coast making it ideally placed for handling the UK’s trade with northern Europe. It handles close to 4 million TEUs per annum, almost half of the UK’s containerised trade flow and is Europe’s 8th busiest container port.
Felixstowe was the UK’s first purpose built container handling port and with wide berths and deep water it can handled the largest container ships. These factors, plus its location to the north of London, make it a particularly important landbridge port for Irish trade flows to ports in the north of Europe.
The port is well connected to the UK rail network with three rail lines. This makes it the largest intermodal rail freight facility in the UK. Further development of this facility is ongoing.
Port of Liverpool
The Port of Liverpool is the closest major UK port to Dublin and is the most important arriving port for Irish exports.
Liverpool handles around 30 million tonnes of cargo each year but has needed to upgrade its historical facilities considerably in recent years. This investment has greatly increased its capacity for container ships and further investments are planned.
Port of Milford Haven
Located in South Wales on the Bristol channel, Milford Haven is the closest UK port to ports in the south of Ireland and handles around 30 million tonnes of cargo per annum.
Milford Haven is the largest energy handling port in the UK and is home to the largest LNG terminal in Europe at its South Hook terminal. Rapid growth in throughput has occurred in recent years and further investment is planned.
Port of London
The Port of London is one of the largest ports in the UK for handling containers and has been among the fastest growing in recent years. It handles over 53 million tonnes of cargo per annum spread along a series of locations in the Thames estuary.
The port is obviously important as a gateway for the metropolis that is London. However, its importance is enhanced as it is very well connected to the UK’s internal road, rail, air and water transport networks. It has traditionally acted more as a origin/destination port for Irish trade, or as an entrepot port, than as a node in the landbridge.
A wide variety of cargo is handled including containers, food, people, machinery and hazardous cargo. Major investment in ongoing to handle growth with predicted throughput in 2035 rising towards 80 million tonnes of cargo.
Port of Southampton
The Port of Southampton is an important gateway for UK trade with the continent and handles the largest share by value of exports among UK ports. It handles over 35 million tonnes of cargo and 1.9 million TEUs annually placing it among the largest container ports in UK.
As the crow flies, Southampton is the shortest landbridge for Irish containers to France and the Paris region.
Kevin Hannigan has worked as an economic consultant based in Ireland for the past 25 years and lectures on economics at various institutes including the Irish Management Institute. He has undertaken economic research in a wide range of areas with an emphasis on policy evaluation and appraisal. He has a broad knowledge of the Irish and European economies and a deep appreciation of the importance of the economic context for the formation of business projections, the evaluation of alternatives and the outcomes of decisions.