By Peter de Langen
The French Haropa ports, Le Havre, Rouen and Paris are steadily implementing the full merger announced over two years ago; the final step should be ready June this year. As an important part of the integration, they recently published a strategic plan until 2025. The plan is an interesting read and clearly reflects the changed landscape in the port industry. While in 2015, Le Havre had the ambition to grow container volumes with 50%, to around 4.8 million, this plan aims for a much more modest growth of 10%, to reach 3.1. million TEU. The plan also acknowledges the inevitable decline of liquid bulk volumes, which account for around 50% of its throughput. As a consequence, the plan suggests total maritime volumes (i.e. excluding river transport) will remain fairly stable at around 90 million ton.
The strategic plan ‘ticks all the right boxes’ in the sense that the widely recognized challenges around digitalization, innovation (eco)systems, sustainability and circular economy all have landed in the plan. Based on my experience with strategic plans for ports, which certainly includes some mistakes, in my view the key question to ask about a strategic plan is: is it radical enough? In hindsight, most strategic plans turn out to be too much based on business as usual, even if they tick all the right boxes.
Is Haropa’s plan radical enough? Well, time will tell, I certainly do not have a crystal ball, but here are my doubts. First, like most other ports, and in line with national and EU policies, Haropa aims to increase the share of barge and rail while reducing the share of road transport. However, so far most ports have not achieved modal split targets, and in many countries the share of rail is stable or even declining. The transition to cleaner trucking is well underway and autonomous & assisted driving on the horizon. So it may be time to challenge the value of modal split ambitions. Second, the strategic plan is mostly silent regarding the diversification of the ‘port business ecosystem’. The experience from other ports is that activities such as mega-yacht building, offshore wind, datacenters, circular manufacturing and even ‘industrial agriculture’ may be valuable additions to the port business ecosystem. Focusing commercial activities on attracting such new investments may be needed. And third, perhaps the planned transformation of the port/city interface is not radical enough and could include a stronger commercial approach to develop maritime/cruise related leisure.
If Port Strategy is still around in 2025, and I still write an opinion piece for it, I will report on ‘what really happened’ in 2025 😊.
First published @Port Strategy