The authors draw on historical evidence, recent public inquiry documentation and maritime port-capacity forecasts to examine the logic and consistency of British seaport infrastructure development. In light of the rejection of the Dibden Bay (Southampton) container-port proposal, the authors counterpoint the UK government position with the views and evidence presented by key players in the port and shipping industry. The respective standpoints are shown to be markedly divergent in a number of key respects. The principal conclusion is that market forces are of critical importance in determining the nature and location of port developments. Consequently, unless shippers are provided with sufficiently flexible facilities in the locations they prefer, Britain could, as in the 1980s, find itself in danger of becoming little more than an appendage to the major North European continental ports. The delicate balance between interventionist and market-led port development is an issue that will inevitably be encountered in other geographical contexts.