IT WOULD make logistic and economic sense to have one strong ferry port in Fishguard, rather than two small ports in Pembrokeshire, Parliament's Welsh Affairs Committee heard last week.

At a one off session looking at the initial impact of Brexit on Welsh trade, and the impact of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on trade flows across the Irish Sea, the committee heard that fright levels at Fishguard port were currently 50 percent on what they were last year.

Stena Line's head of UK port authorities, Ian Davies, told the meeting that at the beginning of the year freight was down by 70 percent but by the end of January had recovered to half of the previous year's figures.

The committee heard that the reduction was due, in part, to stockpiling at the end of 2020 and that a lot of the stockpiled goods were now being drawn down.

It also heard that companies may be choosing the longer, more expensive routes from the Republic of Ireland to the continent, rather than using the land bridge, due to the certainty that their goods would arrive unfettered by pot red tape.

Committee chair, MP Stephen Crabb, asked the committee's industry expert witnesses if there were concerns about the long term viability of Pembrokeshire's two relatively small ports.

"We are feeling the pinch at Fishguard and Pembroke, especially with haulage avoiding using those ports and diverting around through England and into Northern Ireland directly and diverting onto the direct service from the republic to the continent," he said.

"Does this raise concerns or fears about the long term viability of two relatively small ports in that and what the future may look like if all of the pre-Brexit, pre-pandemic traffic doesn't return to those ports?"

Mr Crabb then went onto ask:

"At the moment you've got two ports offering a ferry service. Are you suggesting a consequence could be there will be just one port offering a ferry connection to Ireland?"

He added that these issues were not new and had been discussed before Covid and before Brexit, asking whether it would make economic sense for the west Wales economy to have one consolidated ferry terminal perhaps offering two services off the one dock.

Ian Price Wales director of the Confederation of British Industry said that ports need to diversify, to be adaptable and to look at areas other than freight. He gave the example of Milford Haven branching out into renewables.

"Potentially there is a future for both the ports," he said. "We just need to be a bit clever and a bit more agile in what we do," he said.

He added that it was not yet clear whether the traffic would come back and said we are presently in a period where the figures are not clear.

"Probably by the summer we'll have a better picture of what demand is going to be like and that's a decision for that time," he said.

"The level of traffic will dictate whether there is one or two ports. If there is enough traffic, two will remain."

Ian Davies said that the two Pembrokeshire ports did not have frequency of service that was essential to 'fuel an economy' as they both ran on similar timetables. He added that Holyhead had that that frequency as it had two different ferry companies running out of it, and that that had been 'fundamental' in its growth.

"A lot of the ferry company customers would like to see a one port solution where you get two ferry operators but operating a back-to-back timetable," he said. "That would be the utopia because you'd have a six-hour frequency."

Mr Davies added that Fishguard had also diversified into attracting cruise ships but that this had been 'hammered' by the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the feeling was not to make any changes to the two ports, because they are long term investments, but admitted:

"Logic yes would say it would make more sense from a logistics point of view and an economic point of view to have one strong ferry port with frequency of service. Obviously at Fishguard Port we would say that should be Fishguard because it's the shorter ferry crossing."