Part of UK heritage
Helping hand: The south-west Cumbrian Port of Barrow has played a key role in serving the offshore energy industry over 150 years. Credit: ABP
Out of the limelight, Barrow enjoys the fruits of the offshore industry. Felicity Landon reports
How many visitors to England's tourist hot-spot of the Lake District are aware of an industrious port at Barrow-in-Furness, just half an hour's drive from Lake Windermere? Probably few - the exception being those who arrive on one of the occasional cruise ship calls, berthing in the Cumbrian port's Ramsden Dock Basin before setting off on a coach excursion to the Lakes or Furness Abbey.
Barrow, which is operated by Associated British Ports, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year - a century-and-a-half since the first vessel came into the first docks. “The port grew up around the development of the iron and steel industry, which evolved into shipbuilding - and that remains the backbone of the town today,” says Chris Clouter, assistant port manager at ABP Barrow. “The port is very much a key part of the industrial heritage of the town, and has been through the past 150 years.”
ABP Barrow is home to BAE Systems' submarine building facility, which employs about 8,000 people and has built all of the nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy. BAE has been building the Astute class subs, and is investing in readiness to build the Dreadnought class, the successor to the Trident missile Vanguard class.
Barrow is also the home port for four specialist vessels used by International Nuclear Services (INS), which has its own self-contained, dedicated facility, INS Marine Terminal, in Ramsden Dock. Here, flasks of nuclear materials heading to and from Sellafield by rail are unloaded and loaded to the vessels, which are dedicated to transporting the highest classification (INF3) of nuclear material. Sellafield, the nuclear fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site, is a short distance up the coast - most of the shipments are to and from Japan.
A third industrial customer is Centrica, which has a gas condensate storage site at Barrow. Gas from fields in Morecambe Bay comes ashore via pipeline to be fed into the National Grid; the extracted condensate is stored in tanks at Barrow before being shipped out to Antwerp for use in the petrochemicals sector.
Offshore continues to deliver important new opportunities for Barrow, where four operations and maintenance (O&M) bases are already established - for the Barrow, West of Duddon Sands and Walney offshore wind farms, all operated by Dong, and Ormonde, run by Vattenfall.
“There are at least 300 wind turbines in the eastern Irish Sea not far off the coast of Barrow. O&M bases provide good, long-term, high-quality jobs here,” says Mr Clouter. “Walney is being extended, with the project getting under way this year; we are hoping to work very closely with Dong to support that development both in construction and ongoing operations.”
There are further proposals for new wind farms off the Isle of Man and other areas nearby - Barrow is only 15 miles from the proposed 4.2GW Round 3 site in the Irish Sea. The port has already built its experience in heavy lifts for the offshore industry, including handling monopiles and transition pieces for Walney 1 and Walney 2, and accommodating the construction of substations for three offshore wind farms on the quayside before loadout and installation on site.
Barrow also has experience in handling pipeline storage and loadout operations.
In terms of conventional cargoes, Barrow handles around 300,000 tonnes a year. Aggregates are brought in by sea and from local quarries for two concrete plants on the dock estate, and a regular import is Brazilian woodpulp transhipped via the Netherlands, destined for Kimberly Clark's tissue factory in the town.
The Port of Barrow, total area 138 acres, is operated by ABP within its Short Sea Ports division. For residents, Town Quay is probably the most visible part of the docks and there is some residential development close to ABP's port office, on Barrow Island.
“Excluding BAE, there are between 400 and 500 jobs directly on the port estate,” says Mr Clouter. “And yet, it is surprising how many people in Barrow don't know we exist, or just assume the port is part of the shipyard - it is a common misconception.”
But then again, the cruise passengers might know more - one of the less predictable excursions on offer is a visit to the Dock Museum in Barrow-in-Furness.