Larne has lost its position as Northern Ireland’s second biggest freight port to Warrenpoint, according to newly-released official figures.
The statistics, contained in the Ports Traffic Report, reveal that over the course of 2013, nine per cent of freight moved through Larne, while 11 per cent moved through Warrenpoint.
Meanwhile, 66 per cent of Northern Ireland’s freight passed through Belfast.
This contrasts with the figures for 2012, when 12 per cent of freight traffic passed through Larne, in contrast with ten per cent for Warrenpoint.
The total tonnage passing through Northern Ireland’s ports in 2013 amounted to 25.3m tonnes, an increase of 7.5 per cent on the figure of 23.6m tonnes for 2012.
Belfast experienced an 11 per cent increase in tonnage, the joint largest percentage increase in total traffic of all UK ports along with Tees and Hartlepool.
The Port of Larne has provided a freight service to Cairnryan for over 30 years since July 1973. There has been speculation that roadworks linked to the A8 road upgrade scheme are partly to blame for Larne’s decrease in freight trade popularity, with lorry drivers less keen to navigate the route while it is under construction. The £130 million scheme is currently 75 per cent complete and is expected to open to traffic next spring.
Mayor of Larne Martin Wilson, who sits on Larne Borough Council’s Economic Development Committee, commented: “This would be concerning if I thought the situation wasn’t going to improve, but with the upgrade of the A8 it may be that the roadworks are causing a temporary loss in trade.
“The harbour company are keen to make sure that they are getting a fair share of the market and the A8 upgrade is part of that.
“At this point in time I wouldn’t be too concerned as when the A8 is up and running we will still have the fastest crossing to Scotland.
“I believe Larne and its port will bounce back and this is a short term thing, a snapshot of this period in time.”
Councillor Wilson said he believed that local jobs were secure despite the freight decrease.
He continued: “With the commitment of P&O and the harbour company I don’t think there will be job losses. There is a strategy to build up the port and get more freight through, which I hope will result in more people being employed going forward.
“P&O have invested and there will be a marketing strategy when the A8 reopens. The hauliers who have been loyal are still there, it’s just that the extra have switched.”
In addition to freight, the Port of Larne also operates passenger ferries to Cairnryan and Troon, with P&O providing up to 14 ferry arrivals and departures daily to Cairnryan. This increases to 20 daily on the summer schedule.
Earlier this year the Larne Times revealed that the number of passengers passing through the Port of Larne had dropped from 890,190 in 2010 to 668,091 last year.
Additionally, the number of commercial vehicles using the port has almost halved in the past three years, down from 357,513 in 2010 to 188,237 in 2013.
Asked about the long-term sustainability of the port, Cllr Wilson responded: “There’s nothing to worry about with the sustainability of the freight and passenger services.
“P&O are staying committed to Larne and the A8 is a catalyst to rebuild. I firmly believe that as time moves on not only will Larne regain its place as Northern Ireland’s second biggest freight port, but it will be challenging for the top spot.”