Sarah Tuck


The Southwest Region, as defined by the SW Regional Development Agency, forms an extended peninsula with a coastline of 1,020 km, the longest of any region in England. All along this coastline are fishing ports, commercial ports, small wharves, closed ports, ferry ports and leisure ports. Amongst the smallest are a dozen tidal ports, tiny harbours and rocky wharfs that still maintain a commercial trade of local and environmental significance. According to most theories of port development these ports should close, being forced out of business by larger, more efficient ports. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifteen people who were involved with five small ports or port areas in the Southwest region. They represented commercial, local government or local resident interests. The research was carried out using grounded theory methodology, which aims to create theory through inductive analysis of the data. An ecological theory of port competition emerged, which explains how a small port succeeds because it is adapted to a market niche within which it enjoys a unique competitive advantage. Small ports are, however, extremely vulnerable to relatively small changes in the external environment, especially as port town land has a high opportunity cost in terms of the housing, retail and leisure developments that could profitably be made on the land. The institutional environment (including the support of the local council) and economic environment are the two most important indicators for the success or failure of a small port. In terms of regional competitiveness, a small port contributes to the competitiveness of its region as a business in the traded sector and a facilitator of traded businesses. In terms of clustering, a small port appears to belong more to a cluster of industries around agricultural products, fish products, supplies distribution, wholesaling transportation and logistics services, than to the obvious 'marine' clusters of ship fabrication or marine leisure.

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