Feature: Inside the £320million shipping port of Barking and Dagenham
PUBLISHED: 13:00 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:26 15 September 2016
To many it may just be an apparently underused train station.
But for the 4,113 people employed in the multi-million pound industry, Dagenham Dock is a thriving shipping destination.
Although London is no longer the centre of the freight world it once was, hundreds of companies still rely on the murky waters of the Thames.
But it’s no longer the historic dockland areas of Newham and Tower Hamlets that are leading the way, with the wharves and jetties of Barking and Dagenham employing at least 3,000 more people than the ports of any other borough in London.
The area boasts 11 separate water-to-land interchanges, according to the Port of London Authority, including three on the River Roding in Barking.
No prizes for guessing the biggest dockside-employers though.
Arguably the company that put Dagenham on the map, Ford recently completed a year-long £6million pound jetty refurbishment.
Three dedicated ships – Celestine, Cymbeline and Undine on contract from Cobelfret Ferries – run a continuous loop between Dagenham and similar Ford facilities in Vlissingen, Holland, with 290,000 vehicles making the trip across the North Sea last year.
Dagenham-made diesel engines, plus eco-boost engines from Bridgend are exported out while completed cars are imported for sale in the UK.
"The jetty is integral to the whole European operation and people aren’t really aware at all – even people in the company"
Senior supervisor of the jetty operation, Dean Taylor, says the importance of the river cannot be overstated.
“If you own a Ford car in Europe the chances are some part of it will have come through Dagenham and up the river,” he explained.
“Pretty much every single Ford car in the UK will have sailed into Dagenham as well.
“The jetty is integral to the whole European operation and people aren’t really aware at all – even people in the company.”
Jaguar and Land Rover also export vehicles from the jetty – but cars aren’t the only thing transported by boat.
A truly international operation, companies from across the globe have chosen the borough’s shoreline as the place to do business.
Construction multi-national CEMEX, the largest Mexican investors in the UK, opened a new wharf off Choats Road, Dagenham last year, providing the closest aggregate production site to central London north of the river.
Five dredging ships bring in 40,600 tonnes of sand and gravel from off the coasts of Suffolk and Kent each month, which is then transported by road to concrete factories across the south east.
Port of London Authority
Port terminals contributed £320million to the borough’s economy last year, with 3.6 million tonnes of cargo handled at wharves and jetties.
The Port of London Authority (PLA) governs the 70 working port facilities along the Thames and Barking and Dagenham plays a vital role.
“The area is a key location for this vibrant port activity with 11 cargo terminals in the borough,” said a PLA spokesman.
“This part of the Thames is also home to a busy trade in scrap metals and metal recycling with four wharves handling this.
“With such a diverse group of cargo handling port facilities, the port industries are a vital part of the local economy.”
Barge loads – 500 tonnes at a time, equivalent to 25 truck loads – also sail from Dagenham across London to a similar site in Fulham.
“It made strategic sense to revitalise the site at Dagenham to service the growing markets in central and north London,” said Rob Doody, the company’s aggregates operations director.
Stolthaven Dagenham, also off Choats Road, handles a range of fuels including bitumen and diesel for UK distribution.
The plant welcomes more than 100 ships a year bringing in more than one million tonnes of chemicals from countries such as Spain, the Netherlands and America.
Varying in size, the three vessels a week can take loads of up to 30,000 tonnes.
Parent company Stolt-Nielsen Limited has invested more than £50million in the site since buying it three years ago.
“The port at Dagenham is an integral part of our business,” general manager Sergio Almeida, 37, said.
“About 90 per cent of the chemicals that come in are delivered by water so it’s very important to us.”
And Mark Bass, president of the Barking and Dagenham Chamber of Commerce, hopes big companies will continue to use the open water for years to come.
“If you think about how congested the A13 is already, it’s a good job the freight doesn’t come by road,” he said.
“Theses companies are important for the borough’s economy and it’s good that the river can still play a key role.”