In Medieval times it was one of England’s busiest ports. Centuries later business is booming at the Port of King’s Lynn in the wake of Brexit.
Millions have been invested on the quayside to help handle the half million tonnes of cargo which sails in and out of the docks on around 300 ships each year.
Improvements in recent years include new cranes, new silos and new lock gates. Work is about to start on a new timber shed half the size of a football pitch alongside Alexandra Dock, which will see operator Associated British Ports (ABP) plough another £1.2m into Lynn.
Timber imports from Finland, Latvia and Sweden are increasing sharply because of demand from both the DIY and gardening markets and the construction industry.
“We’ve seen our timber volume double this year,” said port manager Kim Kennedy. “I know for certain one of our customers has increased their product range. We’re also importing a lot of timber that’s going into the construction industry in the UK.”Grain is another key commodity, which flows in and out of the port according to supply and demand. Last year saw a poor harvest for the region’s farmers, meaning wheat had to be imported to help feed the East Midlands flour mills, for whom Lynn is the closest port. But Mrs Kennedy expects the tide to turn.
“2020 was poor in terms of wheat,” she said. “But if the sun comes out again we’re going to have a really good harvest in 2021.”
That means the bins will be full in the Bentinck Silo, which can store 32,000 tonnes of grain, ready for export to France, Germany, Spain, Latvia or even Russia.
While EU countries are the port’s bread and butter, Brexit hasn’t rocked Mrs Kennedy’s boat.
“Despite Brexit, the port of Kings Lynn is observing much higher volumes of activity than it has in recent years,” she said. “This has been predominantly driven by high volumes of timber being imported, high volumes of milling wheat also being imported due to the poor UK Wheat harvest in 2020 and high volumes of Barley being exported due to a UK surplus in 2020 – one poor crop often lends to surpluses in another.”
She said while uncertainty over tariffs caused ship numbers to fall in January, there was “significant activity” beforehand, as customers stocked up to stave off supply chain issues during the transition period.
Trade has now settled into an upward curve with Europe and elsewhere. But while working from home has become the new normal for many, you can’t unload a timber ship on a laptop from your living room.
Mrs Kennedy said: “We are having the busiest year that we have had for many years which is great to see after the impact and challenges of Covid over the last 15 months, where our colleagues have been absolutely outstanding in their attitude of coming to work and being committed to complete loading and discharging ships in these challenging times.”
She added that were it not for her stevedores, the people who load and unload the ships, our supermarkets may have run out of bread.
Dockers work around the state of the sea, with ships entering and leaving the port on the highest or spring tides. Vessels are loaded or unloaded during neap or lower tides.
ABP says together with its two other East Anglian ports, Lowestoft and Ipswich, it contributes £360m to the UK economy every year and supports 5,300 jobs.
Along with grain and timber, the port also handles aggregate from Egypt and Portugal, in the form of a porous material used to make the foundations for roads. It also exports beans to Norway, to be made into falafels – which are all the rage in the land of the fjords – and scrap metal for recycling.
Centuries of history at Norfolk port
In medieval times, King’s Lynn was one the most important ports in England. The town was part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trading alliance which stretched across the North Sea and the Baltic.
Merchants built grand houses alongside the quays, where wine, wool, wax, fish and iron were unloaded.
By the late 17th Century, the league collapsed under the weight of wars and internal conflicts.
Today’s port has its origins in the 1860s, when a docks and railway company was formed to build the Alexandra Dock.
Separated from the Ouse by a lock gate, it offered shipping a calmer berth than the fast-flowing tidal river and more spacious quaysides.
Source: Eastern Daily Press here