HGV traffic to and from Ireland via Holyhead has slumped by around a third, according to port operator Stena Line.

Stena said the reduction is largely due to operators from mainland Europe - whose trucks would normally head for Ireland via the UK 'land bridge' and pick up loads on the way back – deciding to avoid the UK.

Head of UK Port Authorities at Stena Line Ian Davies said that whilst it was cheaper and quicker for lorry drivers to travel through the UK, hauliers’ concerns about disruption at ports has seen a significant number drive to northern France and take the crossing across the Irish Sea to Ireland since the New Year. Holyhead is the UK’s second largest port.

In response, Stena has started running a second ship between Rosslare and Cherbourg.

Davies said: "We're operating probably only about 30 to 40% capacity - the two ferry companies are very quiet.

"We have routes that go directly between France and Ireland. It has grown in popularity, we've doubled the capacity available, but it's really an uncertain market."

Davies cited stockpiling ahead of 31 December - and the uncertainty before the end of 2020 as to whether there would be a trade deal with the EU - as key reasons why Holyhead was so quiet.

He said there were long queues on the road leading into the port in the run-up to Christmas.

"We had a huge boom prior to Christmas - we had a seven or eight-week period where Holyhead was taking about twelve-and-a-half thousand freight units a week, which normally is 9,000," he added.

However Davies said the company is confident about Holyhead's long-term prospects, adding that he expects more goods to start moving through the port again in the longer term as the route fits well with just-in-time supply chains.

"The advantages of a land bridge are huge. There's a lot of uncertainty with Dover-Calais over the Covid testing, and over the administration there, but once people get used to that then we expect to see normal levels return.

"The market always takes time to adjust. People take time to adjust,” he added.