LONDON Gateway’s huge cranes tower over the south Essex landscape.
But for most, what goes on beneath those giant structures at Britain’s newest port is largely unknown.
Eight months after opening, we were granted a behind the scenes look at life inside the £1.5billion superport.
And once you’ve made your way through a maze of cones at Sorrells roundabout - works on which should be completed in the next two months - what you find at the end of the new access road is quite remarkable.
London Gateway is state-of-the-art. Able to accommodate the biggest container ships in the world, the port is a hive of activity carried out harmoniously by hundreds of computer systems and humans.
The port sits on “new Essex” - land created by silt dredged from the River Thames, used to create the quay side which now hosts eight of the world’s largest quay cranes.
Ships - loaded with containers packed with goods from the United States, South America and India to name but a few - are removed by the cranes and “stacked” by low-emission straddle carriers, tall machines that lug containers and look like they have been plucked from the set of Star Wars.
Automated stacking cranes, which move over mountains of boxes, keep them organised before, at the request of a waiting driver, they are loaded onto lorries to be taken to their destination in the UK.
Similarly, the process works in reverse, with goods shipped out of the port.
If boxes do not enter or leave the port by road, they go by rail - entering or leaving through the longest railway terminal in the UK.
The UK rail network is currently unable to accommodate the length of trains that London Gateway can - a glitch it is hoped HS2 will address, if it ever gets the go-ahead. Machines called “tokes” drag containers into place so as they can be loaded onto trains and powerful machines called “reach stackers” pick up any stray containers.
A bustling control room, kitted out with dozens of computer screens watched over by eagle-eyed operators, masterminds the port’s operations.
London Gateway's rail terminal
Colin Allabush, 63, of Branksome Avenue, Stanford-le-Hope, is head of training at London Gateway. He has worked at ports around the world and started his career at Tilbury.
His role now involves teaching the workforce how to safely operate and maintain all this high-tech plant equipment. He said: “This port is far more high-tech than anywhere i’ve worked before. The cranes have 500 buttons, bells and computer systems. It makes for a more efficient port in terms of less damage and rate of productivity. Drivers have to more intelligent now.
“There’s no comparison to ports i’ve worked at in the past.”
There are about 400 members of staff who work 12 hour shifts at the open-all-hours port and take breaks in a comfortable amenities centre which boasts a gym, canteen and televisions.
Video: watch this two minute video as an automated crane lifts a container off a lorry and stacks it, ready for shipping.
There is a good atmosphere around this growing hub. The first warehouse of the neighbouring, nine million square foot logistics park opens early next year - and that could be the catalyst for the port’s third berth opening.
Local people, particulary in Stanford-le-Hope and Corringham claim that port jobs aren’t going to local people who are keen to be a part of this project.
But Tom Conroy, communications officer at London Gateway, said: “While we are growing, we are not growing as quickly as people might have thought. So we have 400 jobs on site at the moment, and for those roles we received 10,000 applications. That’s a lot of people we’ve had to decline. Most of the jobs will be in the logisitcs park and that will be from the second quarter of 2015.”
Construction starts on the logistics park as the port continues to expand
SOME OF THE PORT'S FACES:
Heather Jee, 46, of Gafzelle Drive, Canvey Island, formerly a beautician and cleaner to the rich-and-famous, started at London Gateway in March. She drives plant machinary, such as tugs and fork lift trucks and came across the job after attending an open day at the port.
She said: “This is very, very different to what i’ve done in the past but I really enjoy it. There’s not many of us ladies - but we get treated with respect. It’s really good.
“A typical shift involves a meeting first thing when we’re told what ships and trains will be coming in when. We get told what we’re doing during our shift and then you go out and do it. It’s tiring, but I love it.
“It’s all very new to me - but when I first saw the port, it was mind boggling.”
Chloe Mercer, 26, of Ryde Drive, Stanford-le-Hope works in the port’s finance team, making sure contractor’s invoices are processed. The former Hassenbrook school student had had her eye on working at the port long before it opened and got her job after applying online.
She said: “I started here in January. I’d always been interested in obtaining a job here. Local people have known it’s coming for some years and I thought it would be a good project to watch grow and for me to grow with.”
When asked about residents concerns over noise, lorries and local disruption, Chloe said: “I think the new roads have and will make the traffic flow better. The port is bringing lots to the area - with people shopping here and drinking in the pubs. I think it’s put Stanford back on the map.”
Colin Allabush, 63, of Branksome Avenue, Stanford-le-Hope, is head of training at London Gateway. He started his career at Tilbury Docks and has worked all around the world. His son and daughter also work at the port. He said: “I’ve got two kids who work here, in their late 20s and early thirties. They are local youngsters who have got jobs here.
“DP World is doing loads locally - stuff that Shell never did while it was on this site. It’s brought a lot of work and prosperity. It’s a fantastic place to work.”
LONDON GATEWAY FACTS:
*400 people currently work for DP World at London Gateway - by the time its fully operational, it will employ 2,000 at the port.
*The port is built over an area of 175 hectares and will eventually have a quay length of 2,700m with 24 quay cranes in operation (there are currently eight), and comprise of six berths (there are currently two).
*The berth depth is 17m, the new terminal is built to accommodate cargo vessels that can carry 18,000 containers.
*31.2million cubic metres of sand was dredged from the bottom of the Thames, making the river deep enough for the biggest ships and creating the land on which the port now sits
*The first berth opened in November 2013 and the second in April 2014. The third berths will open as the port begins to attract more business
*Construction work on the £1.5bn terminal project began in 2010.
*At 750metres long, the port’s rail terminal is the longest in the UK
London Gateway from the air