Continued uncertainty in construction supply chains and turbulent weather made for a challenging 2022 for Shoreham Port, with a decrease in ship calls and overall cargo tonnage. Despite the challenging economic uncertainty and the rise in operational costs, the port continued its investment in both its commercial property portfolio and its cargo and logistics services, resulting in an overall increase in revenue of 7% compared to 2021.

So far in 2023, Shoreham Port reports a “healthy cargo mix with good volumes in most sectors”.

Other areas of the port also continue to grow. “In the last 12 months the port has successfully secured a number of government grants from the UK Seafood Fund to facilitate investment in important fishing infrastructure around the port, the first of which was the refurbishment of the port’s dry dock,” said Shoreham’s head of customer relations and logistics, Sam Woskett. “This facility was officially reopened in August 2023, accommodating vessels up to 50m in length. Most recently we were awarded £1.3m to redevelop our inshore fishing marina, boosting the long-term future and sustainability of our local fishers.

“Meanwhile our property portfolio continues to expand; 2023 saw the opening of Lady Bee Studios, adding 11 new office units to the estate, and our hospitality venture, Port Kitchen, celebrated its first anniversary in June 2023.”

The port has also continued to grow its portfolio of logistics services, offering haulage, ships agency, customs clearance and bulk handling capabilities, and it now has its own recruitment agency through Shoreham Port Solutions.

“In addition, multiple key cargo tenants have invested heavily in their sites this year – further ensuring the future of shipping through Shoreham,” said Ms Woskett.

2022 posed particular challenges for imported timber volumes, she acknowledged, with unprecedented trade fluctuation, putting unforeseen pressure on both revenue and operational management of terminals and working of vessels. At base, this was due to economic challenges faced by UK customers. It resulted in imported timber volumes being significantly below expectations, in line with the UK’s overall decrease in softwood products imports. Where there was growth, however, was in the export of wood chips to various European destinations.

The timber picture has improved this year, with “strong and steady imported volumes month-on-month”, suggesting a note of optimism that the flows of timber are returning to previous years’ levels. “As we approach September, volumes are projected to meet expectations, but vigilance remains key,” said Ms Woskett.

The port’s customers buy from sawmills in Sweden, Finland, and the Baltics and, although overall shipping routes into Shoreham remained unchanged, it reports shipments from new mills resulting from higher demand from Sweden due to reduced supply from Latvia.

“This year we’ve seen a notable return in timber volumes from the north of Sweden and Finland,” said Ms Woskett. “We’ve also experienced an increase in imported panel products, a clear reflection of the industry’s shift towards sustainable construction materials and innovative building design. The port provides a dynamic reflection of changing market demands.”

The port has continued to feel the “ripple effects” from the war in Ukraine, notably in terms of Latvian trade. Blocked by sanctions from importing Russian logs, Latvian sawmills have had to depend on domestic supply, resulting in rising raw materials costs.

“This has been exacerbated by the ongoing infestation of bark beetles in Latvian spruce forests, resulting in the destruction of a substantial volume of logs,” said Ms Woskett. “As a result, Latvian mills reported high production and material costs, prompting the upsurge in timber imports from Sweden.”

Shoreham has also won new timber importer customers over the last year, including new key accounts, as well as importers “seeking swift offload and direct delivery via the port’s HGV service”, which has benefited cargo flow.

“We celebrated the first full year of operating our haulage service in 2022,” said Ms Woskett. “It provides customers with an efficient, seamless logistics service from the quayside to site and through the year covered extensive distances, as far as Carlisle and Newcastle. Operating our in-house road freight, we’ve secured greater control and certainty over bookings and deliveries and we’re excited at its growth prospects. This year we’ve also invested in more shunting equipment and the fleet has grown to 18 units with 28 trailers.”

Besides its freight forwarding, the port has also continued to expand its customs clearance capability, enabling it to customs clear cargo at ports across the UK.

In addition, it completed demolition of old brick sheds last September, increasing open quay storage space and boosting overall capacity. The move, it says, also enables its operations division to handle a wider range of cargo.

The focus today of logistics businesses, more than most, is on the environmental impact of operations and Shoreham Port has been no exception.

“2023 marks a decade of our EcoPort status, and our sustainability manager has been busier than ever in our 10th year,” said Ms Woskett. “We have been building a solid carbon reduction strategy, in line with our commitment to reaching net zero, scope 1 and 2, by 2035.

“Earlier this year we received our first delivery of hydro-treated vegetable oil, or HVO, a fossil-free paraffinic diesel. This is a drop-in alternative, requiring no modifications to existing infrastructure. It’s made from certified waste material and gives an 80-90% reduction in CO2 emissions and significant reductions in nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions. Buying it from ISCC-certified suppliers, we can trace the origin of each fuel delivery and be sure it’s sustainably sourced. Integrating the fuel into our non-road-mobile-machinery, such as cranes and marine vessels, this transition will facilitate a substantial reduction in our emissions footprint.”

In conjunction, Shoreham has expanded its working fleet of electric vehicles, anticipating that this will cut emissions to the tune of four tonnes of CO2 annually. It is also trialling a waste wood recycling project, with pallets, odd pieces and dunnage from steel carrying ships collected for use as biomass fuel.

“We are continuing to work too on development of the Shoreham Port Green Energy Hub, partnering with H2 Green,” said Ms Woskett. “By developing a green hydrogen production site, we will act as a catalyst for other local stakeholders to decarbonise their activities.

“Considering the natural fluctuations in cargo demand through the year, things look promising,” said Ms Woskett. “However, it’s important to note that potential economic difficulties on the horizon could impact the construction industry, a key player for us. We will be keeping watch on this, but remain cautiously optimistic.”

Further good news for the port has been the addition of several new bulk cargo customers. These cover cargoes from woodchips to sand used in golf courses, and even imported black stone for road repairs in its home county of West Sussex.

“We continue to broaden our service offering, as we actively explore new cargo enquiries involving recycled and waste materials, as well as project cargoes,” said Ms Woskett. “In 2024 we’re hoping to incorporate a second recycled glass cargo facility into our bulk bund area and development of our stock management system will enhance functionality for customer use and cargo flow.”

Overall, she maintained, Shoreham Port’s outlook is increasingly optimistic, despite market uncertainty, with strong customer and supplier relationships and an increasingly diversified business model putting it in a “positive position”.

“While we will need to keep managing risks, we are enthusiastic about our strong array of projects,” she said. “We believe we’re well-placed to create and maximise business opportunities and to continue to improve and grow the port sustainably.”

As a Trust Port, another key focus of Shoreham is community engagement. This includes its annual Sustainability Week, with the event this July proving its most successful to date. Sponsored by partners HSBC and H2 Green, this showcased the work of business leaders, academics, and sustainability advocates from across the south-east and the rest of the UK. In collaboration with 11 organisations, it comprised over 15 workshops on diverse topics, from sustainable fashion and renewable energy to the health of our rivers and dolphins in Sussex Bay.

“My colleagues are already planning an even bigger and better series of events for 2024,” said Ms Woskett. “Our purpose at Shoreham remains to shape and maintain the port for the benefit of all stakeholders and, in line with our Trust Port status and Masterplan, any surpluses are invested in our people, infrastructure, and revenue growth.” ­