More than a thousand vessels visit Shoreham Port every year, carrying 1.75 million tonnes of cargo as diverse as aggregates, steel, cereals and grains, marble, pumice, ash, oil – and timber. At about 350,000m3 per year, Shoreham handles around 5% of the UK’s total timber imports.

As finance director and deputy chief executive Tim Waggott explained, it’s not unusual to see three large timber vessels discharging at one time. “Timber plays such a key role in the daily functions of Shoreham. We have a wide range of regular liner services operating here, together with all manner of extra services and our partners operating quayside facilities as well.”

Shoreham has worked hard at identifying timber-shipping partners. “There’s a clear and increasing demand for quality timber products and we want to service it,” continued Mr Waggott. “With our road links to the south-west, south-east, London and Birmingham, there’s a huge market available through Shoreham.”

Fast, reliable handling of product is seen as key and Shoreham has strengthened its offer with Track-A-Pack, a stock monitoring system that incorporates bar coding on each pack as it’s unloaded, together with wireless technology around the site. The system enables shippers to monitor their stocks from arrival, pinpointing where they are on site. And, port staff can direct hauliers more accurately, dramatically speeding up loading times.

“It gives every part of the chain a rapid answer,” said Mr Waggott. “We update it every day so that customers can access their information via the web from anywhere in the world. If notified of arrival the previous day, our aim is to turn around any vehicle arriving at Shoreham within 50 minutes.”

Track-A-Pack has been “a tremendous asset” since it was launched in May 2002 and there are plans to include live information in the future.

Infrastructure improvements

The port says its efforts to maintain and improve infrastructure are constant, not only to combat wear and tear, but also to adapt to changing business needs and operating requirements. Timber handling has altered enormously in recent years, requiring virtually all products to be stored under cover. This is particularly important for Shoreham, which is developing business at the higher end of the market.

Shoreham can handle vessels up to 110m long, 6.7m draft and 16.4m beam, giving typical capacities of around 4,500 tonnes, which is ideal for shipments from Scandinavia and the Baltic states carrying sawn and machined softwoods as well as sheet materials.

All the handling areas are either block paved or tarred, and there is over 36,000m2 of shed space. “Fishersgate Terminal is one of our latest infrastructure projects where we block paved over 1.75ha to greatly improve handling,” explained chief executive Rod Johnstone. “We see the ideal scenario as being all goods cleared before the next vessel,” he continued, “but three months from arrival is the maximum period.”

Shoreham Port has an annual turnover of £7.5m and encompasses Shoreham Port Authority and Sussex Port Forwarding Ltd, which effectively act as one enterprise. In 1997 all the share capital of Sussex Port Forwarding was acquired by the Port Authority which is a non-profit making trust, with trustees appointed on a three-year rolling basis. “All the profits are ploughed back into the port,” said chief executive Rod Johnstone.

Port customers

Existing port users, which include MDM Timber, Travis Perkins, Mackintosh and Partners, Covers, and Stamco, seem very satisfied with the service at Shoreham. “We’re into our 15th year of trading and Shoreham was the first port we used,” said Ken Fuller, purchasing director of MDM Timber. “Our continuing success has been greatly assisted by the port.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Mike Cullis at Stamco: “Since I joined Stamco in 1988 we’ve seen our imports through Shoreham climb from just over 1,000m3 to 25,000m3. They’re very good to us and very switched on logistically. It’s our number one port of entry.”

Strategic partnering is seen as the future. “We’re very flexible and will tailor deals to suit each individual partner,” said Mr Johnstone. “This approach, working with companies who want to use Shoreham as a long-term, regular base, forms an increasing part of our marketing activity, particularly with Scandinavian shippers.”

Scandinavian shippers include SCA Timber Supply Ltd which has returned after a gap of more than a year. SCA will now operate a quarterly service to the port. Following a trade mission to Latvia and Estonia, Shoreham is also aiming to increase its share of Baltic trade.

In all its activities the port also aims to reinforce its standing at the heart of the local West Sussex community. It is a direct employer of 85 people and already plays a vital role in the local economy.

Plans to give the port a new identity and sense of direction were unveiled earlier this year. These have now been implemented and the change in culture will bring more openness and transparency. “We want to make all stakeholders aware of our progress and plans for the future,” said port chairman Rod Danes.