Thursday, 3 November 2016

M6 Link no "Magic Bullet" when it comes to new business, we have to "Think Big", urges Seatruck boss

Seatruck CEO Alistair Eagles
Hot on the heels of the opening of the Bay Gateway earlier this week, Alistair Eagles, CEO of Seatruck Ferries, one of the companies set to benefit the most from the new M6 Link, has called on locals to not sit back and be content simply with less congestion, and think big when it comes to the area's future.

In an article for the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Eagles argues the M6 Heysham link road will fundamentally change traffic flow in the Lancaster region.

"It will massively improve access to Heysham Port for the growing number of HGV vehicles using it," he says, "while also ensuring that private motorists can move more freely in the local area. I have no doubt that from a road congestion viewpoint it will dramatically and positively change the current situation, which will be just brilliant!

"However," Mr Eagles, who moved to the area in 1991 cautions, "we need to be careful that we do not sit back and expect the road to be in some way, ‘magical’" arguing that although the road is open, "we will not automatically see new businesses locating to the area."

One of the major factors that figured heavily in the eventual go-ahead for the road, after years of debate and many alternative plan proposals, were claims the road would bring significant economic benefits to the area, in terms of jobs and new business. During the road building phase, for example, at least one hundred long-term unemployed people were trained and employed.

Mr Eagles has previously said the link road's opening is the long awaited ‘big bang’ moment for the Port of Heysham, arguing it unleashes the port’s potential to win more Irish Sea tonnage from hauliers who no longer have to wrestle with congestion between the M6, Lancaster and the Heysham peninsula.

But, he also cautions, if  the area wants to see new hotel and leisure facilities and more visitors, Lancaster and Morecambe's residents will have to work for it.

"A line of coaches full of tourists wishing to sample our delights will not automatically thunder relentlessly over the horizon, " he says.

"The road will absolutely be a major catalyst for growth and economic development, but this can only be achieved if ‘we’ make it happen," he urges.

Seatruck is already benefitting from the new M6 Link. Image: Seatruck
Mr Eagles knows all about rolling up your shirt sleeves and making things happen, too.  In 1996, as part of a small team a small team he helped set up Seatruck Ferries, the Heysham-based freight only ferry company now 100 per cent owned by the Clipper Group based in Denmark. . Seatruck specialise in the shipment of unaccompanied freight trailers and has grown from a new entrant to a significant player on the Irish Sea moving in excess of 290,000 freight units per annum on two routes from Heysham and one from Liverpool, moving around 20 per cent of the total roll on roll off freight traffic to Ireland - and it continue to grow.

With 12 freight ferries, including eight newbuilds, Seatruck is also active in the external charter market offering vessels on hire to other ferry operators in Northern Europe.

In preparation for the Bay Gateway opening Seatruck has already added the 105 trailer Clipper Point to its daily Heysham-Dublin route, increasing annual capacity by more than 25,000 extra spaces a year. She will join her two sister vessels Clipper Pennant and Seatruck Panorama, which already operate between Heysham and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland.

In total, Seatruck now offers 12 crossings a week between Heysham and Dublin and 22 crossings a week between Heysham and Warrenpoint.

To take full advantage of the potential economic advantages the road it's claimed will bring, Mr Eagles has a simple three-point plan for success.

"Simple plans are always the best," he argues.

"Firstly, we should be getting out of the armchair," he urges - a sentiment echoed on many social media groups in the days following the road's opening. Rather than sitting back and expecting things to come to us we should be leaping upwards and shouting from the very top of our voices about what an amazing area this is. We simply do not do enough to tell the outside world about us.

"Secondly, we need to shout with a collective voice," he feels. "We spend too much time squabbling about the local detail rather than jointly pushing a strong message. Frankly it is not about if Lancaster is better than Morecambe, if Cat Smith is more or less attractive than David Morris or indeed if the visitor economy is more or less important than commercial business activity.

"Rather than raising constant issues with the City Council we should all get behind the new [Chamber of Commerce] Chief Executive Susan Parsonage and her team. Together with a simple understandable vison we are much stronger.

"Finally," he enthuses, "we should think big.

"Someone recently said to me that Lancaster should try and be more like Preston," he notes. "Well, no disrespect to our near neighbour but as life goals go, I think we should be setting our sights a little higher!

"We are different and we should celebrate ‘our’ strengths. This area should be more like Chester, or York or Bath?

"The Bay Gateway will be fantastic," he is convinced (as are the vast majority of locals now using it to get to work and those already noting the benefit of less Lancaster town traffic, although some caution the current half term week may have be making some contribution to that).

"Together we now have within our power the option to grasp this huge opportunity and makes things not just fantastic, but also utterly fabulous.

"The road will not be magical in its own right, but with it as a catalyst and by working closely together and shouting loudly, we can indeed make the magic happen."

• Seatruck Ferries is online at www.seatruckferries.com

You can read Mr Eagle's full article here on the Chamber of Commerce web site

The principle aim of "The Chamber - North Lancashire" is to help make North Lancashire businesses become more profitable and through partnerships create an environment where businesses can grow and prosper. It does this by offering member organisations a range of services to help them grow and save money.

The Chamber is a strong, professional and unified voice that campaigns on behalf of its members and the District. Whether it is on local, regional or national issues that affect the District, or industry-specific issues,  For more information about its work and how to join visit https://thechamber.org.uk

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