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The Port of Dover’s bold agenda for the future

Once described as ‘the Haven between the Hills’ by Julius Caesar – the Port of Dover, and its proximity to the continent, has long been a strategic asset for the United Kingdom.

Today the Port of Dover is the busiest in the UK, handling more passengers and trade combined than any other port – approximately 11 million passengers and £144 billion of trade in goods each year. The port also houses a cargo operation that handles fresh produce, containers, project cargo, general cargo, grain and Ro-Ro traffic from a state-of-the-art terminal. 

During summer 2023, the port saw a return to its pre-pandemic passenger numbers – one of the first major international travel gateways to do so - processing 2,390 miles of outbound traffic during the six-week period, a distance that stretches from Dover to beyond Cairo, Egypt. These volumes once again confirm Dover’s position as Britain’s premier trade and travel gateway to Europe, and continued confidence in the route. 

However, the Port of Dover has ambitions to grow its value and efficiency even further to drive productivity for the UK. Through its mission statement, to close the gap between the UK and the world, collaborating with local and international partners to create world-class travel, trading and visitor experiences. The Port of Dover works openly with all its stakeholders, customers and industrial and political partners to continuously improve and sustainably innovate to empower exchange.  

Recently, several key developments were announced by the Port of Dover to achieve its vision, of a world where exchange is seamless, smart and sustainable. In October, it tabled its bold agenda for a bright and ambitious future for Dover and the UK, showcasing industry-leading partnerships with present and future governments at party conferences and launched ‘Port of Dover 2050’, its strategic long-term master planning programme. The port is also leading the charge regarding decarbonisation, digitalisation, AI and port optimisation with its partners across academia and industry.  


At the recent Conservative and Labour party conferences, the Port of Dover hosted its popular ‘Great British Trade Reception’, attended by policymakers, industry colleagues and ministers alike, including Secretary of State for Transport Rt Hon Mark Harper MP and Trade and Economic Security Minister Nusrat Ghani MP in Manchester, and Shadow Trade Minister Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Transport Minister Bill Esterson MP and Dover’s prospective parliamentary candidate Mike Tapp in Liverpool. 

The Port of Dover showcased its ambitious policy agenda, championing Britain as a global trading power and Dover's leading role within this, empowering one-third of the UK's trade with its largest single trading partner, the EU, to an enthusiastic response from both conferences.  

Alongside the plaudits of the political speakers for the critical role and dynamism of the port and the partnerships it is forging across government, industry and academia, Doug Bannister, Chief Executive of the Port of Dover, revealed the accelerating role Dover is taking in championing rapid decarbonisation, including plans to achieve the UK’s first high-volume shipping corridor as part of a rapid journey to net zero across key supply chains.  

Mr Bannister also highlighted exciting work on harnessing digitalisation to maximise UK productivity, as well as the need to work together with governments on a remote and digitally led solution for the incoming EU Entry-Exit system, and our current work with best-in-class universities to drive innovation through AI and machine learning to enhance operations.  


Alongside its ambitious agenda for the near term, the Port of Dover is also focused on securing long-term prosperity for the nation and, following such strong and wide-ranging political support, is also launching 'Port of Dover 2050’, its programme to develop a strategic long-term master plan to become the UK’s most seamless, sustainable and tech-enabled port, and a symbol of national trade resilience and future growth. 

“To achieve our vision, we need to understand where we need to be planning for change and investing for the future,” said Port of Dover 2050 programme Chief Executive, Doug Bannister. “Port of Dover 2050 is our comprehensive roadmap to the future, which will consider everything from transport and infrastructure, to how we use our land, how we grow as a business and importantly, how we as a port can best support the economic and social development of Dover, Kent and the UK as a net zero society.  

“The way we travel, do business, live and work, shop, socialise and spend our time are all being influenced by changes in the way we live and work, technological advances, the nature of the economy, our climate and environment. Port of Dover 2050 will ensure that we are ready to take advantage of the opportunities these changes present and be resilient in the face of the challenges they may bring. 

“Throughout the 2050 process, we’ll be engaging with national and local government, Dover and Kent residents, port users, customers and our community as well as harnessing the expertise of our own port employees.  

“In spring 2024 we will be opening a public consultation to hear the views of as many people as possible, to inform our plans so that Dover can remain an iconic, strategic asset delivering significant local and national economic benefit. The final plan will be published in summer 2024 when we will report back on how feedback has influenced the development of the 2050 plan. 

“As we kick things off this autumn, we’re asking people to visit our engagement page at portofdover2050.commonplace.is/ and pin a memory or aspiration for the port, and help us reflect on our heritage, look ahead to the future and shape the Port of Dover of 2050.” 


As part of the ongoing Green Corridor at the Short Straits project, the Port of Dover and project partners gathered in Dover in September to present the latest updates of the work, part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition (CMDC) by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK.  

Since January 2023, 10 consortium partners integral to the advancement of decarbonisation of ferries that operate between the Port of Dover and its sister Ports, Calais and Dunkirk, have collaborated during CMDC phase 2 to determine the feasibility of electrification and the route map for the journey ahead.  

The work identifies the challenges ahead to overcome but paints a bright future for decarbonisation at the Port of Dover and secures the port’s position at the vanguard of maritime decarbonisation.  

The Port of Dover facilitates 59% of all ferry journeys between the UK and Europe and handles more international passengers than all other UK ports combined, across a fleet of 13 ferries and up to 130 vessel calls every day. Achieving the decarbonisation of the Short Straits ferry route will, therefore, not only have a tangible impact on the overall carbon reduction of freight and passenger transport for the UK, but will mark a new age for clean transport via spillover benefits for the entire short-sea sector, through the development of reproducible technology.  

This work follows on from the first round of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Project, which comprised a seven-month venture in 2022 to determine the technical and economic feasibility of electric power solutions for the Port of Dover’s ferries, and was the first to forecast the potential power demand of electrification of the route and identify supply solutions for energy generation and battery charging scenarios.  

In January 2023, the second round of the CMDC commenced with the 10 operational partners, which, alongside the Port of Dover, included the University of Kent, WMG, Schneider Electric, SSE, Ikigai Capital, JG Maritime Solutions, ABB, DFDS, P&O Ferries and Irish Ferries.  

Extending and advancing the work of the first round of the CMDC, the second has identified the business case for the green corridor and a delivery plan and route map (University of Kent), undertaken a full value chain identification and analysis (Ikigai Capital), identified viable energy pathways (WMG – the University of Warwick’s arm for commercial partnerships - and Schneider and SSE) and reviewed the regulations and policy necessary to deliver the transition (JG Maritime Solutions).  

Headline findings include: 

  • Despite the Port of Dover being over 400 years old, it’s going to see the biggest ever change in its business model and operations through decarbonisation that is to come (alongside its sister ports in France).  
  • Decarbonisation of the route, due to the scale of the goods carried across the Short Straits, will save 8% of UK international marine emissions.  
  • Extensive knowledge growth in technical provision is required to deliver decarbonisation of ferries at the Port of Dover – including a mean power demand of 60MW for 13 fully electric ferries and a peak demand of 162MW. 
  • Though several potential pathways to zero-emissions operations exist, electrification, combined with a decarbonised national grid, will result in the lowest drop in emissions. This will require new vessels and has the largest infrastructure impact, with the requirement for fast, high-power and reliable electrical ship-to-shore connections.  
  • Though huge investment is needed, there is a strong business case for landside and marine-side decarbonisation and a viable pathway ahead.  

“The Port of Dover is leading the charge for decarbonisation of the maritime industry, working in partnership with government, industry, academia and across the public and private sectors,” said Vicki Beatty, Head of Environment at Port of Dover. 

“We at the port, alongside the nine other project partners of this work, are delighted to be sharing the findings of the latest phase of the Green Shipping Corridor at the Short Straits work; establishing the scale of the ambition required for the years ahead as we decarbonise one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.  

“Having already reduced our carbon footprint by 95% since 2007, the port is set to reach carbon net zero in its direct (scope 1 and 2) emissions by 2025, and carbon net zero for defined scope three (certain indirect emissions) by 2030. This work by numerous project partners will be integral to delivering our collective carbon-zero ambitions through the creation of the Green Corridor beyond 2030. 

“Our ambitions are strengthening every day and Dover’s green future is drawing closer. The next step to progress this work is the design of the physical connection for the future electric ferries – which represents the challenge of needing to be compatible across the three sister ports of the route and the three ferry operators who maintain it – and the optimisation of ferry schedules to enable the charging of vessels.” 


The Port of Dover has formed new partnerships with four best-in-class universities to develop next-generation technological solutions for the strategic and operational challenges facing the port of the future. The port has committed to cutting-edge research collaboration with the Universities of Manchester, Cranfield, Liverpool and Kent across an array of projects from port optimisation to AI, machine learning and physics-based deep learning. 

These partnerships create reciprocal opportunities for the port to benefit from each university’s world-leading researchers to resolve strategic challenges using pioneering digital solutions and enhance the journey of £144bn worth of UK trade, 11m passengers and 2.4m trucks every year, with huge dividends to be gained for UK productivity.  

In turn, researchers will be able to employ a unique and world-leading operational testing ground for innovation in the Port of Dover and so stretch their knowledge of potential uses of AI further than ever before.    

Work with the University of Manchester is focused on the development of a digital twin for the Port of Dover, utilising machine learning and physics-based deep learning. Meanwhile, workstreams with the Universities of Cranfield, Liverpool and Kent will drive operational efficiencies in resource management, traffic flow optimisation, logistics and the supply chain through the port and across the wider region. 

“The Port of Dover’s vision to become a smart, seamless, and sustainable port is fast coming to fruition, but the only way this vision can be realised is through collaboration with first-class thinkers and researchers,” said Christian Pryce, Chief Commercial Officer at the Port of Dover.  

“These four universities form the first wave of a wide range of partnerships that the Port of Dover plans to establish to help us achieve our ambitions across all areas of our operation and we encourage potential partners to reach out to us with ideas if they think they can support our journey.” 


Published On: 30/11/2023 14:30:00


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