Bathside Bay port plan 'not at risk'

THE go-ahead for a £1.5billion “super port” in south Essex will not scupper the long-awaited Bathside Bay development in Harwich, it was stressed last night.

James Hore

THE go-ahead for a £1.5billion “super port” in south Essex will not scupper the long-awaited Bathside Bay development in Harwich, it was stressed last night.

Contracts have just been completed for the new London Gateway super port and business park in the Thames, potentially creating up to 12,000 jobs.

This had raised doubts about the viability of the Bathside development at Harwich which must begin by 2016 - but Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd said last night the plans were still going ahead.

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The deepwater container port was given the green light for in 2006, but work cannot start until much-needed safety improvements are made to the A120.

Hutchison said there remained enough demand for both Bathside and the London Gateway ports, along with the upgraded Felixstowe South - claiming the Harwich development was able to offer more because it is a deeper water facility with better access.

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Bathside would boast 1,400 meters of quay, 11 ship-to-shore gantry cranes and capacity to deal with the latest and largest container ships.

It could also create more than 700 jobs for an area which has long-suffered from high levels of unemployment.

The Highways Agency confirmed yesterday that negotiations on the A120 remained at an “early stage”.

Mary Edwards, regional campaigns coordinator for Friends of the Earth, said changes to world trade patterns meant more goods would be coming into the west of the UK, reducing the demand for the east coast ports.

She said: “We always said Bathside was over egging the pudding and it now looks like it is going to run out of time on the planning consent.

“They should concentrate on Felixstowe and leave Bathside to the community and the birds. London Gateway is much better placed and Felixstowe South will continue to have a role, but it is a whole different matter to start all over with a huge engineering project. I don't think it is going to happen now.”

However, Paul Davey, corporate communications manager for Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd said: “London Gateway will provide competition for us in Felixstowe and Bathside, but ultimately we believe we are in a strong position to compete with it.

“We have better main access and a shorter access for ships to get in and out of the Haven area - ships which are going down to London already have to stop at the Sunk [a light vessel] to collect pilots to take them into London ports so we are in the right place.”

He confirmed Hutchison would fund the A120 improvements but said the Highways Agency would be “leading the way” in deciding what work was needed.

Lawrie Payne, a Tendring district councillor for Harwich East ward, said: “I do still think it will go ahead, but we will have to wait a while. We have to wait for Felixstowe South to finish, but there is still the need for another port with all the vessels coming into England and we are in the right place for it.”

A Highways Agency spokesman said: “The Highways Agency is in the early stages of working with Hutchison Ports on a suitable scheme to upgrade the A120 between Hare Green and Harwich.

“The developer has to fund the upgrade as a condition of planning approval for Bathside Bay.”

Essex County Council said all the ports could still be accommodated.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “With state-of-the art container facilities Essex will be in a good position to compete with Europe to handle increasing container traffic in the future. Improved rail transfer will help minimise the environmental impact of transporting goods because of the county's proximity to key rail freight networks.

“The port developments will bring jobs and prosperity to our county, both in direct employment and in the supply chains that support the sector.

“Both of these developments will greatly help to regenerate parts of the county that might otherwise miss out on major investment opportunities of this scale.”

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