A Fresh Wind Blows Over the Porte océane
With the “Port 2000” project, Le Havre will expand its facilities to better accommodate the “giants of the seas” and play its role as an international logistics platform at the Atlantic entranceway to Northern Europe. The stakes are economic, social and environmental, and the principle of sustainable development will be put to the test.
Nicknamed Porte océane, the port of Le Havre is the largest port in France for foreign trade and container traffic. It is the fifth largest port in Northern Europe in terms of volume of merchandise handled and the largest port on the Northern European coast. It is very well situated for cabotage liaisons and for the requirements of a major international land logistics platform. In addition to its excellent location, it also enjoys maritime advantages which enable it to accommodate very large ships 24-hours a day, every day of the year. Despite this, its port infrastructure and its land and river routes to its hinterland reached a saturation point.
Le Havre is not a typical city. It was rebuilt after being nearly entirely destroyed during the war. It suffered a great deal from the effects of de-industrialisation in the 1970s and this led to a drop in its population (about 191,000 inhabitants in 1999). Economic and social stakes are, however, closely linked to protection of the environment and the risks related to industrial activities in the port zone. These impact the ecosystems of the Seine (1) estuary and the coastline and tourism, which is significant along the Côte fleurie.
This was the original framework for the ambitious “Port 2000” project which has been carried out by a group of partners led by the Autonomous Port of Le Havre. A key project of the 2000-2006 Structural Funds Programme for the Haute-Normandie region, its goal is to provide the city with new port installations south of the current port which, on completion in 2010-2015, will consist of twelve 350 m loading berths on a single 4.2 km quay protected by a dike. These new berths will be able to handle twelve 300 m container ships simultaneously and process an annual volume of merchandise of up to 4 million "TEUs" (2). Few other ports in the world can handle this volume.
Public debate: a first
The genesis of the project, from the first studies in 1994 through inauguration of the first two berths on 30 March 2006, was very long. The reason for this was the extent and complexity of the operations and the diversity of interests which had to be satisfied. These included port professionals, fishermen and other socio-economic players, elected officials, environmental associations, neighbourhood committees, and others. Port 2000 has provided the first opportunity to test the new Barnier Law of 2 February 2005 which requires public debate on all major infrastructure work. The result, which changed a lot of habits, was an extensive consultation process which, though not without some difficulty, led to a constructive dialogue now recognised as a model of its kind.
An island for birds
The environmental facet of Port 2000 was included in the project from the very beginning. It addressed the need to manage the ecological impact of work in the river estuary given that the new quay reduced its width. In fact, the project first began operations in 2001 to build a resting place for birds on a dune reserved for them. In order to diversify the reserve, a small five-hectare island and an ecologically sound beach adapted to sea plants were then also specially developed. The project also rehabilitated tidal flats which are a habitat for marine worms, molluscs and crustaceans on which sea birds and fish feed. Two European LIFE projects rounded out these undertakings: a LIFE Nature project for the protection and management of bittern habitat and a LIFE Environment project called “Ecoport” for the management of maritime waste.
With four new terminals coming into service in the second half of 2007, Port 2000 will double the annual capacity of the Port of Le Havre while providing shorter layover times, greater maritime safety, proximity to substantial logistic infrastructure and the potential to use complete trains. In terms of employment, over 2,500 positions are now in place out of a projected total of 6,000 expected in logistics, transportation, commercial and port services.
The project is already providing early signs of an economic upswing for the Porte océane and for the entire Haute-Normandie region. Significant challenges are, however, already visible for the coming years: it will be necessary to put in place enough intermodal capacity to handle the increase in merchandise traffic, to ensure balanced urban development and to strengthen the environmental process already underway.
(1) Now a European Natura 2000 network protected site.
(2) TEU: Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit, the unit of measurement used for container traffic.