Dublin Port Company is a State-owned private limited company that was established as a corporate entity in 1997. The company is self-financing and does not seek or require Exchequer funding for its operations or any infrastructure work carried out at the port. As a State company its remit is to operate and manage Dublin Port in accordance with our responsibilities under the Harbours Acts and in accordance with the mandate provided to us by our shareholders, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Finance. Our mandate and our sole focus is to operate and manage the port in the most effective, efficient and competitive manner to facilitate trade for our customers and to ensure that the port, as a key element of national transport infrastructure, serves the national economy well. Dublin Port is a key strategic access point for Ireland and in particular the Dublin area. At present Dublin Port handles more than two thirds of containerised trade to and from Ireland and 50% of all Ireland's imports and exports, making it a significant aspect of Ireland's economic infrastructure. Dublin Port handles 1.2 million tourists through the ferry companies operating at the port and through the cruise vessels that call to the port with increasing frequency.
Dublin Port is a competitive port. Since 1997 the company has invested significantly in infrastructure improvements without seeking Exchequer funding. To date we have invested more than €180 million. We have endeavoured to keep charges to customers as low as possible by undertaking a cost reduction programme and introducing competition within the port. While trade at the port has quadrupled we have managed to undertake a cost reduction programme that has kept our overheads as low as possible.
Dublin Port is a facilitator of trade and our customers have a wide range of competing stevedoring companies and competing scheduled services from which to choose. Dublin Port Company operates on a very price competitive basis by both national and international standards, a point recognised in the Fisher report.
The economic boom associated with the Celtic tiger has seen an increase in activity at Dublin Port. Between 2000 and 2005, Dublin Port witnessed growth of almost 30% over a five-year period. Since 1992 there has been a fourfold increase in throughput at Dublin Port. In the year to date there has been strong growth in throughput representing an 11.9% increase over the same period last year. For the third quarter, imports increased by 10.7%, while exports increased by 14.3% over the same period in 2005.
The key reason for our growth is that Dublin Port remains the port of choice for both importers and exporters as it is seen as the most efficient and cost-effective way of accessing their respective markets. Approximately 50% of all goods arriving in Dublin Port remain within the M50 area, while 75% of goods arriving at the port originate within 80 km. of the port. There are significant challenges ahead. As a commercial State company with a mandate to facilitate trade, Dublin Port Company must ensure that it has adequate facilities available to meet projected demand and capacity over the coming years. Dublin Port will reach operational capacity by the end of 2007 in ro-ro. From that point we will not have adequate facilities to deal with the volume of business generated by our customers in respect of ro-ro capacity. We have had to turn customers away because of a lack of capacity to accept new business. This is likely to have a knock on impact on the cost of services for the existing scarce facilities at the port.
Trends in shipping evolve and larger vessels are emerging that require larger berths. As a competitive international trading nation, we must keep pace with these developments in shipping and require facilities to accommodate larger and more efficient vessels. Otherwise importers, exporters and customers will suffer from the use of less efficient means of importing and exporting goods and this will contribute to higher costs and fewer choices for customers and businesses. This is not in the national interest.
The development proposal that has received the most attention is our proposal to reclaim an area of 600 m. by 350 m. at the north-eastern edge of the port to create additional unitised trade and berthing facilities. This proposal would involve the construction of a new quay on the eastern and southern edge with ramps and other structures associated with the provision of such facilities. At present we are constrained as there are no additional facilities within the existing port where we can have access to deep berths. This proposal has been with the Department with responsibility for the marine in its various manifestations since 1983 and the current application for foreshore permission was made in March 2002. This application has not been processed by the Department because it has indicated that it will not deal with foreshore applications until planning permission has been granted. Dublin City Council will not deal with a planning application until the foreshore permission is granted. The matter has been advanced recently, albeit at a slow pace, by the establishment of a Dublin City Council study into Dublin Bay, including the port area. However, a report will not be produced until June 2007, following which changes are likely to be required to the Dublin city development plan. We expect no progress before 2009.
The question of the relocation of Dublin Port is not a matter for Dublin Port Company. It is a question for our shareholders to address and decide. A reply by the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, to a parliamentary question on 2 November 2006 suggests the Government has no proposals to move Dublin Port from its current location. It is within this context that we must operate and plan. The Minister also recognised that Dublin Port is the country's premier port in terms of throughput and turnover and is of vital strategic important to our trading economy. My role is to run Dublin Port in accordance with the mandate given. As such I have not strayed into speculation about whether the port should be moved. My function is to manage, operate and plan the activities of the port in terms of the function and role that it currently serves.
In any consideration of proposals to move the port I urge that due regard should be paid to a number of key aspects. The proposal to relocate Dublin Port is not merely an issue about the use to which the current port lands are put, whether that includes residential, office or commercial development. It also involves addressing a number of critical issues regarding the strategic role Dublin Port currently plays in our trading economy. Any assessment of proposals to relocate Dublin Port should address the following issues to ensure that a proper strategic assessment is made.
Can a new port be commissioned that could take over the scale and pace of throughput that Dublin Port currently services and is it viable from a planning, infrastructural and hydro-geological context? What will the project cost and how is the cost measured against benefits of retaining the status quo? Given the tidal flows on the east coast of Ireland, is there a location that will not suffer from significant silting? Is there adequate scale of land available to accommodate a site broadly equivalent to the existing estate size of Dublin Port and how feasible is such a development from a planning and environmental perspective? This is not merely a question of constructing quays. Storage, transit, tanking and marshalling facilities will also be required. What is the attitude of local communities in areas adjoining any proposed new port to replace Dublin Port? Is it possible that a new development proposal for a port to replace Dublin Port will create the same strength of understandable local opposition that Dublin Port has encountered for its development proposals?
What transport infrastructure would be required to service a new port, how much will it cost to construct and what impact will the new port have on existing traffic flows? How will the port and necessary infrastructure be funded in circumstances where Dublin Port could not be decommissioned until a new port is open and operational in respect of its categories of trade? What will happen to the existing electricity generation sets operating in the Dublin Port area? There are currently three power generation stations in Dublin Port, two on the Poolbeg Peninsula and one on North Wall. Other urban utilities are located in Poolbeg, including the sewage treatment works and a proposed incinerator. If these must be moved a site will have to be found for their relocation and the associated cost calculated. Can any new port operate efficiently and offer multimodal services by a range of operators to customers at competitive prices? What charges will port customers face and how will this impact on the cost of both imports and exports? Will customers wish to use the new port? Will customers wish to use the new port and what would be the cost of bringing goods to and from it in circumstances in which most trade will be in Dublin? As stated earlier, almost 50% of imports arriving at Dublin Port remain within the M50 area. There is the additional question of the environmental impact of the journeys generated by relocation. Can any relocation proposal be delivered in a timescale that addresses the capacity shortfall that exists in the short term? What will be the impact of any relocation of the port on existing planned infrastructure, including the port tunnel?
Any discussion on the possible relocation of Dublin Port should focus on these important and strategically critical issues, in addition to questions of possible future land uses for the Dublin Port estate. It is important to look at both sides of the equation and appreciate that the port plays a vital and indispensable role in the national infrastructure. Moving Dublin Port may present attractive opportunities to develop a part of Dublin city as an urban quarter, but that is just one side of the equation. If one is to move a port that currently handles 76% of the State's ro-ro trade and 59% of lo-lo trade, one must be sure one has thought through the implications of the proposals in the context of the vital economic function Dublin Port currently performs.
Dublin Port Company welcomes the Fisher report which is broadly supportive of the Department of Transport's ports policy, which is to provide at no extra cost to the Exchequer capacity where the market demands it. Dublin Port Company has fully supported and implemented the policy. However, we have some points of difference with the Fisher report which involve forecasts on the timing of capacity constraints. Some of the estimates on ro-ro services are low and do not reflect the problems our customers are encountering in Dublin Port.
We welcome the commissioning of the Dublin Port tunnel and hope it will significantly improve traffic flows within the city and for the port. We have some concerns that the HGV strategy Dublin City Council is adopting from the day the tunnel opens on 18 February is too prescriptive at too early a stage. When the tunnel opens, it will be virgin territory for local authorities, the port and the citizens of Dublin and some flexibility may be required to adapt traffic plans as circumstances dictate.
I would warmly welcome an opportunity to show members of the committee the port area in operation to demonstrate at first hand the pace of change and extent of developments taking place at a vibrant and necessary element of the national infrastructure. I would be happy to arrange for a delegation from the committee to visit the port and to see its operations from both the sea and the land sides at a time which is convenient to members.