How Newcastle has gone from trading cloth and coal to becoming a potential green energy giant

Wed 2 Aug 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Newcastle lit up at night

In the second of a new series on the UK’s major trading cities, the IOE&IT Daily Update looks at the past and future of trade on the Tyneside city of Newcastle.

A port has existed on the Tyne since Roman times when it was used to supply troops on the northern frontier of Hadrian’s Wall.

Over the centuries, the growth of Newcastle from military outpost to city was fueled by the exports and imports of goods that were crucial to the English, then the UK, economy.

Cloth to coal

During medieval times, the city was a crucial shipping point for wool. It ranked 6th in England for exports of the product, which at the time was a major part of the country’s economy and a big contributor to royal finances.

Cloth exports were supplemented by coal shipments from around the thirteenth century. The harbour also was involved in the export of an array of products including glass, silver bullion, lead, bricks and tiles, coke, iron and steel, and beer.

By the mid-nineteenth century it was estimated that about “one sixteenth of the whole of British shipping belongs to the port of Newcastle”.

The decline of the coal industry has led to a switch in focus for the Port of Tyne, which came in to being in 1968.

Cars from Newcastle

Today’s port is more likely to move cars into Europe than coal.

It is the UK’s second largest car export hub, handling more than 600,000 cars a year for customers including Nissan, VW and Höegh, and it is just four miles from Nissan’s Sunderland plant, although Wearside and Tyneside retain distinctly separate regional identities.

The North-East of England currently produces 30% of all UK passenger vehicles, which includes 20% of all battery electric vehicles across Europe and 350,000 engines per year. Three of the UK’s top five off-highway manufacturers are based here and produce 10% of all UK non-highway vehicles.

As well as three dedicated vehicle terminals with space for 25,000 vehicles, there is additional land for overflows and one-off shipments.

Containers, bulk and scrap

The Port of Tyne is one of the UK’s major deep-sea ports. As well as specialising in automotive trade, it has a dedicated container terminal capable of handling 100,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) per annum with regular European feeder services.

Additionally, it handles a range of bulk commodities and project cargo, including biomass, grain, aggregates and rail-vehicles from Japan.

According to World Port Source, the Port of Tyne is a major hub for handling forest products, with trade partners in the Americas, the Baltic states, Europe and the Far East. Over five hectares of warehousing and open storage are available for forest products.

Scrap merchant European Metals Recycling (EMR) has recently signed a ten-year contract with the Port of Tyne that will significantly increase the annual tonnage of metals processed and shipped from the port.

EMR’s facility at the Port of Tyne handles 300,000 tonnes a year of scrap metal, which is sold into the Mediterranean, North America and the Far East.

Investment in green future

Bdaily reports that the Port of Tyne has also recently secured a £100m refinancing package with the UK Infrastructure Bank, Pricoa Private Capital and Lloyds Bank.

This 10-year financing arrangement is a national first for a UK major trust port and builds upon the Port of Tyne’s strategic focus on green energy and smart logistics, which authorities hope can help with regional transformation across Tyneside and beyond.

The port hosts Dogger Bank, the world’s largest windfarm, and supports a growing clean energy cluster.

It also houses the UK’s first (and still only) maritime innovation hub, helping customers collaborate with leading innovation partners both in the UK and globally. Tyne Clean Energy Park is the North East’s most versatile clean energy park, providing a unique co-location opportunity for the renewables sector with unrestricted 24/7 marine access.  

Air freight

Newcastle International Airport’s cargo business has grown considerably over recent years with operators handling between 400 and 450 tonnes of cargo every month.

It appointed an experienced cargo business development manager, Aileen Wallace, last year, to develop cargo opportunities from the North East’s largest airport.