A trusted international trade gateway for numerous blue-chip companies, a vital support base for the world’s largest offshore wind farm and a site for transformational carbon change, the Port of Tyne is an economic powerhouse playing a crucial role in driving forward the North East’s presence globally. Steven Hugill speaks to Richard Newton, the port’s commercial director for logistics, about its vital role in connecting the region with the rest of the world and its position at the vanguard of industrial innovation

Humble it may be, but the everyday cup of tea is an unquestionable cornerstone of British identity.

Woven into daily routines for centuries, tea is one of the country’s unofficial trademarks.

Yet tea for Britons goes beyond mere taste.

It fosters a feeling of social connectivity and provides comfort in times of crisis, a feat no more famously highlighted by images of Second World War soldiers brewing up on battlefields to maintain morale.

So when Britain shielded beneath its COVID-19 lockdown blanket, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see tea as a fundamental element in helping preserve the nation’s spirits – more than 100 million extra cups are said to have been drunk every day during the period.

For such demand, however, there has to be supply. And where there is supply, there must be a team of logistical experts overseeing successful transit.

In the North East, the Port of Tyne – which remained open and operational during lockdown – was crucial in ensuring tea stocks continued to flow.

A pivotal player in the supply chain for years – the base is a gateway for more than a third of the UK’s raw tea imports – port staff oversaw the arrival of thousands of tonnes of the ingredient for long-term partner Tetley’s Eaglescliffe-based packaging lines.

Furthermore, the site maintained its equally strong relationship with Ringtons, with the Newcastle beverage firm using the port to access several thousand tonnes of tea from countries including India and Sri Lanka.

For an operator whose strapline promises ‘whatever your business needs: we can, we do’, such commitment no better embodies the port’s ethos.

It also provides a snapshot into the wider world of an organisation that plugs the North East’s world-class manufacturers and supply chains into the global scene.

From the original Tyne Dock that once processed timber and coal deliveries, the now sprawling estate today operates as one of the UK’s major deep-sea ports, boasting extensive container, warehouse, transport and ferry operations.

With significant quayside investments bolstering cargo capacity over the years and relationships with Volkswagen, Audi and Sunderland-based Nissan making it the country’s second- largest car export facility, the port is a keystone in the North East economy.

But officials aren’t standing still.

The port, which bosses aim to make carbon neutral by 2030 and an all-electric test bed for clean energy under their forward- thinking Tyne 2050 blueprint, is increasingly strengthening its presence in the renewables sphere.

Operating as Europe’s largest handler of wood pellets, the site previously worked alongside Northumberland’s Lynemouth Power Limited to create a multi-million-pound biomass handling facility.

Unloading deliveries from ships, docked at a specially extended quay, the port’s multimodal service then transports loads up the coast via train for use at the power plant.

Factor in further support for North Yorkshire’s Drax and the port is responsible for overseeing weekly biomass deliveries that help power hundreds of thousands of homes.

However, it will soon become an integral part of another significant energy project – the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

Chosen by developers Equinor and SSE Renewables, the port will house a 200-plus-job operations and maintenance base for the Dogger Bank scheme.

The site will support construction of the North Sea wind farm and is expected to attract a multitude of supply chain organisations to the North East ahead of the development creating electricity for an anticipated four-and-a-half million UK properties from 2023 onwards.

“We support 12,000 jobs and add £621 million in GVA every year,” says Richard Newton, the port’s commercial director for logistics.

“The port is vital to global connectivity and therefore the regional economy and the supply chain, and we are delighted to be now playing our part in exciting developments such as Dogger Bank.

“Our involvement is testament to the investment in facilities we have made, and the development will be very important for the wider region in terms of local companies and employment opportunities.”

Securing such relationships, says Richard, is built upon years of trust and personal understanding of clients’ requirements, which have allowed the port to tailor services accordingly for a number of household names.

“We work with Nissan, and Volkswagen and Audi import and export vehicles to the global market from here too,” he says.

“We handle and store imported parts for Birtley excavator maker Komatsu that are coming from Japan, China, Brazil and the USA; Hitachi Rail brings carriage shells on car carriers through here for its Newton Aycliffe plant, and Airbus wings come in from Japan.

“We also work with Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Barbour, JML, Greencroft Bottling, and – as shown during lockdown – ensure our partners Tetley and Ringtons are able to continue sourcing tea.

“We own and manage the whole service chain, from cargo loading and unloading to warehousing and distribution, premises and distribution fleet,” continues Richard.

“That provides certainty because customers are dealing with one party, and it has really helped us attract and retain business.

“We have links to Rotterdam and Felixstowe – the biggest port in Europe and the biggest port in the UK, respectively – and we are very well equipped to support customers’ needs with ‘just in time’ deliveries across the supply chain, which are particularly prevalent in the automotive sector.

“We are more than just a port; we are a complete logistics provider.”

Such overarching provision has been recently augmented by multi-million- pound work to revitalise land on Tyne Dock Enterprise Park.

Providing operators with future development space across seven hectares, the park offers easy access to the port’s existing container, roll-on/ roll-off, ferry, bulk cargo, road and rail connectivity streams.

“We are taking steps to ensure things are ready for customers when they need the space,” says Richard.

“If you don’t have the space, you can’t accommodate further business, and it’s certainly helping us account for change in customer trends when it comes to the supply chain.

“By strengthening the assets of the port, we are not just helping the company, we are helping the region and its economy.”