“HARWICH being the only safe port between the Thames and the Humber … when you cannot make Harwich there is nothing but death before you.” So said a ship master giving evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee just over 150 years ago.

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In a slightly less melodramatic tone, a report to the Lords by the Commission on Harbours of Refuge around the same time stated: “A few observations concerning Harwich Harbour, which we consider to be of very great importance to the trade of the country.”

The select committee, in concluding its report, stated: “... as such is of national importance; there are also considerable local interests concerned in its maintenance and preservation” … “the jurisdiction is much divided” ... “there appears to be no likelihood of these local interests combining for the general welfare” … and, ultimately, “It is of importance that the harbour and entrance to the estuary should be placed under one general authority”.

The report, which described the harbour as “one of the finest” and “one of the most useful in the country”, led directly to the creation of Harwich Haven Authority in 1863, to regulate and oversee shipping activity in the estuary.

So, as we celebrate our 150th anniversary this year, what has changed? In essence, not a lot! Harwich Harbour continues to provide a critical gateway for UK imports and exports. It continues to provide a safe refuge for port development and shipping, with deep water access and excellent service across the board.

As HHA chairman Tim Clarke recently pointed out, the entire Haven community has taken the finest harbour in the kingdom and rendered it exceptionally useful.

Our job, as in 1863, is to conserve, protect, regulate, maintain and improve, and our duty is to provide all of our services efficiently and cost-effectively. In 1863, HHA introduced a scale of charges for vessels over 30 tons. These days, things are on a rather different scale – 260,000 gross tons, to be precise!

That’s the size of Maersk Line’s Triple E class container ships, which are due to start entering service this year. The largest container ships in the world, they will be able to carry the equivalent of 18,000 standard 20-ft containers (teu), compared to the 15,500 teu capacity of the Emma Maersk.

We are now actively planning for the next channel deepening project, to be ready for even larger ships on the horizon.

Perhaps the key topic that really sets us apart from our activities 150 years ago is our determined commitment to the environment.

While the Haven Gateway includes the UK’s largest container port, plays a massive role in the economic wellbeing of the UK, and has seen some enormous commercial investment and development in recent years, all of this takes place alongside some of the most sensitive areas of scientific interest and natural beauty. We have demonstrated clearly that development is possible while protecting the environment.

: : Stephen Bracewell is chief executive of the Harwich Haven Authority and deputy chairman of the Haven Gateway Partnership.

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