Port Investment Is Bearing Fruit; Handling Perishable Cargo Is a Trade That Has Returned to Liverpool after a 30-Year Gap. Alex Turner Reports IN ASSOCIATION WITH Rensburg Sheppards Investment Management

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Byline: Alex Turner

YEARS of investment and hard work is beginning to bear fruit at the Port of Liverpool, with the return of a trade that deserted the docks nearly three decades ago.

An infamous incident when pounds 125,000 worth of bananas were dumped into the Irish Sea in 1969, see panel, hit the Port's reputation for handling perishable cargo.

But now new fruit and vegetable quayside handling facilities are to be constructed by terminal operator Go Associates at Seaforth.

The news is the latest chapter in a general revival of trade at the Port.

Liverpool handled 9m tonnes of cargo in 1985, but by last year volumes had increased to 34m tonnes and it now handles more container trade with the USA and Canada than any other port in the UK.

Today, about 5,000 people are working behind the dock gates with 23,000 jobs across the region dependent on the port.

Now the planned Liverpool Produce Terminal (LPT) will be a 90,000 sq ft cool store with capacity for 5,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables that will be destined for the North of England.

It will employ 30 full-time staff and is expected to be operational from September, in time for the start of the Spanish fresh produce season.

Frank Robotham, marketing director of Peel Ports Group which owns and operates the Port of Liverpool, said: "We are delighted that LPT's initiative will further strengthen the port's role in meeting the needs of the food industry.

"The new terminal offers the food industry a way of reducing food miles and at the same time, creates a unique opportunity for Peel Ports to provide both northern and southern gateways into the UK's fresh produce market through its ports at Liverpool and Sheerness in Kent.

"The development also further consolidates Liverpool's position as the most diverse cargo handling port in the UK."

The terminal was the idea of Lewis Clements, joint managing director of Go-Associates, which will operate the quayside facility.

"I phoned Mersey Docks six years ago, asking them to use their cold store and they said they didn't have one," he recalled. "They said if you want to talk about building one, then come and see us.

"We kept talking to them and looked at various different sites. We chose Seaforth because it is right in among the container port."

Last week, LPT had a stand manned by a team of five at Fruit Logistica 2008, the world's largest fresh produce exhibition which attracted 50,000 visitors to the threeday event in Berlin.

Mr Clements was delighted with the interest shown in the planned terminal, especially from Spanish producers who supply up to 30% of the UK's fresh produce.

"Around 10m tonnes of fresh produce are shipped into the UK each year and half of it comes up to the North of England," he said.

'WE WOULD like to see over 500,000 tonnes come through Liverpool.

"It makes economic and environmental sense to bring that volume to the deep-sea port that is closest to the population of 30m people and is served by the best motorway network for rapid distribution direct to supermarkets.

"The situation cries out for high volume direct delivery by sea, into a state-of-the-art fresh produce terminal, ideally located to reach any part of a vast market within a truck driver's tachograph driving day."

But it is not just its location and road network that makes Liverpool an attractive choice. Mr Clements is also full of praise for the port's staff who have worked to transform its performance. …