Gateway to the world

2nd November 2016

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Paul Suff visits a deep-water container port and logistics park in Essex to see how the development on the site of a former refinery tackled a myriad of environmental impacts

To build the UK’s newest deep-water port site owner DP World first had to engage in one of Europe’s largest species translocation projects. Add in the extensive remediation works at the former Shell Haven oil refinery, once home to an explosives factory, and the scale and scope of the £1.5bn project become apparent.

Known as DP World London Gateway, the site on the Thames Estuary at Thurrock, Essex, has been sensitively transformed so that it can service the world’s biggest cargo ships. A 2.3 sq km logistics park, one of the largest in Europe, is also being built alongside the port.

Environment issues were at the forefront during the site clearance and remain so as construction continues. Environmental adviser Thomas Coulter says the owner has worked closely with regulators, including the Environment Agency (see panel, below), the Port of London Authority and Natural England to ensure the development is as sustainable as possible.

The site is subject to a Mitigation, Compensation and Monitoring Agreement, which sets out measures that had to be taken to minimise environmental risks and, where necessary, provide recompense. Work has included dredging to deepen the Thames so that the largest vessels can reach the port; land reclamation to allow construction of the new quayside; moving thousands of species, including water voles and great-crested newts; and creating two intertidal mudflats, providing important habitat for wildlife, in particular wading birds.

Not just a port and logistics park

Only part of the land owned by DP World is taken up by the port and logistics park. ‘A large percentage of the land we own is to the north [of the main site], consisting of farmland and ecological receptor areas,’ says Coulter. This area of more than 4.04 sq km has been used to relocate species and create new habitats. To the west, DP World also owns the 0.42-sq km Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve, which includes 0.27 sqkm of intertidal mudflat habitat, created by managed realignment of the sea wall. Work on a second mudflat habitat, a 1.25-sq km area formerly known as Site X, now called Salt Fleet Flats Reserve, at Cooling marsh on the north Kent coast opposite the port, was recently completed and provides around 0.59 sq km of intertidal mudflat.

After the refinery closed in 1999, wildlife recolonised the site. ‘The previous owners demolished all the buildings and levelled the area,’ says Coulter. ‘It then stood empty for many years and became a wildlife haven, particularly for great crested newts and water voles. Ecology clearance was one of the first things DP World had to do after taking over the site.’

What followed was one of Europe’s largest species translocation projects and, at the time, the largest ever approved by Natural England. ‘Our consultants estimate that we have moved more than 350,000 animals off the areas of the port and park,’ says Coulter. ‘It was a project on a scale that Natural England had rarely had to licence, and some of the lessons learned have been used to inform management approaches taken on other large sites.’

Consultants estimated that the site was home to around 40,000 reptiles, ranging from adders and grass snakes to common lizards and slow worms. Their new surroundings included an RSPB reserve at West Canvey Marsh and a disused airfield in Wiltshire. More than 300 water voles were caught and half were moved to a specially prepared site on the River Colne in Essex. Ecological works on the project included installing more than 60 km of temporary habitat fencing, creating 57 new ponds for 5,000 great crested newts, ditches for water voles and hibernacula and log piles for reptiles.

Due to the site’s history as an explosives factory and oil storage depot as well as a refinery, much of the land for the port and park required remediation. Onsite treatment areas were set up to remediate contaminated soils, using a combination of ex-situ bioremediation, stabilisation and solidification, and the segregation of asbestos-impacted soils. This allowed for the majority of soils to be treated and re-used onsite, diverting thousands of tonnes of material from landfill.

Monitoring and mitigation

Construction of the port involved reclaiming land for the quayside and deepening navigation channels so that the largest vessels could berth alongside. Dredged material was used to reclaim land from the Thames to form a 2.7 km quayside when complete. The operation entailed the dredging of around 30 million cu m of material. There is an extensive marine monitoring programme for the development, which includes a model of the dispersion and settlement of suspended solids from the dredging and reclamation process. ‘Before the dredging started we obtained four years of baseline data. This data was invaluable during the development of the port and for our ongoing monitoring,’ says Coulter.

Oceanographic survey firms monitored the dredging activity using a series of multi-instrument buoys. Known as red-line monitors, these were placed around the dredge area and at selected sites, near Maplin Sands and on the intertidal areas at Mucking Flats and Chapman Sands. They recorded data on salinity, temperature, concentration of suspended solids and dissolved oxygen content.

Reclamation of land resulted in the loss of mudflats next to the Thames Estuary and Marshes Special Protection Area, a site of European significance for birds. So DP World London Gateway has constructed two areas of new intertidal mudflat habitat as compensation for the losses predicted to occur as a result of the development. These include Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve in Essex, originally known as Site A, and Salt Fleet Flats Reserve, formerly Site X in Kent, which was recently completed. Both sites were created through managed realignment of the sea walls and in total provide about 0.74 sq km of intertidal mudflat. Stanford Wharf, which was completed in 2010, is now managed by the RSPB.

Ecologists were involved in monitoring the site in Kent throughout the construction works and there is an ongoing overwintering bird survey programme at both sites. This will help to assess how the habitats are developing and whether they are meeting their objectives. Benthic surveys are undertaken of the mudflat at Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve to measure how the mudflats are establishing and the food resource available for birds. These surveys will start at Salt Fleet Flats Reserve in Kent next year.

Working with the regulators

A project the size of DP World London Gateway involves working with many regulators and complying with a range of requirements from planning consents. Reclamation, for example, was regulated by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, while land raising behind the sea wall was regulated by the Environment Agency under the Environment Protection Act 1990.

In addition to the Harbour Empowerment Order (HEO) (see panel, p29), which covers the port, a Local Development Order (LDO) was granted by Thurrock Council in November 2013 for the logistics park. The LDO was issued after an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed development. This included a number of documents, which set the specifications for construction, and an environmental monitoring and mitigation plan, which identified the measures that were required.

Coulter describes the benefits of the LDO: ‘It removes the inherent uncertainty from the planning application process, setting out in detail, upfront, the scale and form of an acceptable development. This is contained in four compliance documents that cover the design, construction and operation of the development. Developers are required to submit a prior notification form and details of the proposed development to the local planning authority prior to construction. A detailed EIA and transport assessment informed the LDO so are not required. The authority has 28 days to confirm the development can go ahead or to specify changes to achieve compliance. Thereafter construction of a compliant development may commence immediately.’ Logistics business UPS is building a 32,000 sq m package sorting and delivery centre at the London Gateway Park. It was deemed compliant and granted planning consent 17 days after drawings were submitted.

The HEO required DP World London Gateway to establish an ecological advisory group (EAG) through which the scope and results of the environmental monitoring and mitigation programme could be reported and discussed. The group, which includes the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Port of London Authority (PLA) among the regulators and stakeholders, meets twice a year. Coulter says: ‘A whole day is given over to presentations on the latest survey data, and updates on our environment programme and corporate responsibility. The agency, PLA and Natural England also provide a compliance report at each meeting to confirm that DP World London Gateway is meeting its consent requirements.’

Coulter says DP World London Gateway has found the EAG to be a very helpful forum and believes the model could be deployed successfully on other large infrastructure projects. ‘The meetings have helped to maintain a good relationship between ourselves and the regulators,’ says Coulter, adding that regulatory approval of the data is also important for certification of the site’s environmental management system to ISO 14001. The EAG is also a good way to demonstrate to insurers how the facility manages its environmental requirements and risks, he adds.

Heavy lifting and smart logistics

With cargo ships getting larger and requiring deep-water facilities, DP World expects more and more companies to use London Gateway. In 2000, the largest vessels could carry 8,000 TEUs (20 ft equivalent container units); now they can accommodate more than 18,000.

In September, the United Arab Shipping Company vessel, Al Muraykh, carrying a record 18,744 TEUs, called at London Gateway. The vessel is one of the largest in the world. According to its operator, the ship’s capacity – containers are stacked 11 storeys above deck and 23 across the ship – reduces average carbon emissions from transporting containers from Asia to Europe by 60% compared with smaller vessels. DP World London Gateway Port’s 12 quay cranes, which have arrived in phases between March 2013 and June 2016, each weigh 1,848 tonnes. They unloaded from the vessel 3,800 containers bound for the UK market.

The port is designed to accommodate such large arrivals and, by combining a port and logistics park, DP World London Gateway provides a number of benefits to the supply chain. ‘Distribution centres in the UK are historically located in the Midlands, with goods transported to these facilities from ports by road before being delivered throughout the country,’ says Coulter. ‘DP World London Gateway can help its customers lower the carbon emissions and costs by locating their hubs in the south of Essex, closer to the UK’s biggest consumer market of London and the South East.’

Working with the Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has been involved in the London Gateway project since 2000. This participation has included giving evidence at the public inquiry into the port development in 2003 and assisting in drawing up the Mitigation, Compensation and Monitoring Agreement, which ensured the dredging and reclamation work took place with minimal impact on the environment.

Steve Bewers, the agency’s project manager for DP World London Gateway, says: ‘I facilitate relations between the agency and London Gateway and its contractors.’ He describes the relationship as a partnership, with his focus on ensuring interactions are efficient and effective.

This approach is evident in the use of the dredged material to create the new port. Bewers says: ‘The material is technically waste but, being clean aggregate, it received physical treatment on the dredger to remove water and fine sediment, which were returned to the estuary through valves in the hull of the vessel. In a first for the UK, we approved the ship as a mobile plant, so the aggregate material discharged into the reclamation site was no longer classified as a waste.

‘Our general approach has been, “yes, you can do that if you show us how and why it will not create environmental harm”.’

He has brought in departments from other parts of the agency when their expertise has been required. The water quality team in Reading helped with interpreting the data from the monitoring buoys installed as part of the dredging operation. And a flood defence specialist has been on hand to ensure construction work does not harm defences and new installations meet required standards. Bewers says of him: ‘He’s been almost a permanent feature, assisting DP World with its permits and consents. He really knows the project.’

Bewers believes the working arrangement between the agency and DP World London Gateway has benefited from this type of consistent point of contact at the regulator. ‘The team at DP World London Gateway know whom to contact at the agency if there is an issue or if guidance is needed.’

Much still needs to be done at DP World London Gateway with additional berths and further development on the logistics park, so the agency will continue to monitor work. Bewers is currently working with colleagues from the Port of London Authority to agree how maintenance dredging – necessary to maintain the depth of shipping channels into the port – proceeds.

DP World London Gateway Port

DP World, which operates 77 terminals worldwide, acquired the site in 2006 as part of its purchase of maritime company P&O. The Dubai-based company was granted a Harbour Empowerment Order (HEO) in May 2008, which established DP World London Gateway Port as a statutory harbour authority.

Phase one of the port construction, consisting of two berths, opened in 2013, with the first vessel, MOL Caledon, arriving from South Africa on 13 November. A third berth is due to open before the end of this year, with capacity for a further four berths in the future.

When fully developed, London Gateway is expected to have an annual capacity for more than 3.5 million TEUs (20 ft equivalent container units).


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