Council expected to back port plan

By James HoreCAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for a multi-million-pound port expansion scheme look set to suffer a blow to their battle with a council expected to back the project.

By James Hore

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for a multi-million-pound port expansion scheme look set to suffer a blow to their battle with a council expected to back the project.

Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited wants to expand its operation at Harwich International Port by building a deep water container terminal at Bathside Bay.

If given the green light, it would become the second largest facility of its kind in the UK, able to handle up to four deep-sea container ships simultaneously.

A public inquiry into the plan opens next month, but Tendring District Council is expected to give its support to the scheme at a special meeting tomorrow.

The Hutchison Port application is for the construction and operation of the container port at Bathside Bay; the construction of a small boat harbour in the vicinity of Gas House Creek; the partial demolition of the grade II listed train ferry gantry at Gas House Creek; and the creation of compensatory habitats on land to the south-east of Foulton Hall in Little Oakley.

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An 86-page report, drawn up by council officers, said the authority should support the proposed port expansion, subject to certain conditions being met, as it "broadly accords with regeneration, employment and port-related policies".

The report added the planned development fitted the coastal location well, was well-designed and appropriately landscaped and could bring as many as 1,700 jobs to an area that suffered from high levels of unemployment.

It acknowledged the scale of the Bathside Bay proposal could have a negative impact on the surroundings, including the conservation area in Harwich, but said Hutchison Ports had taken appropriate steps to mitigate this.

The company plans to compensate for the impact of the development on the environment by building a compensatory habitat on the Walton backwaters.

Ivan Henderson, the Labour MP for Harwich, said the Bathside Bay plan was vital to help the towns in the surrounding area strengthen their economies.

He added: "This proposals mean that future generations may once again have the chance to work in the port-related employment as I once did as a docker.

"I remember watching as thousands of jobs were lost previously and the devastation it caused in the local community.

"Whilst I certainly want to see the impact of the development on the town minimised, I am in favour of the port because it will have a huge impact on restoring prosperity to our area."

However, Jenni Meredith, of campaign group Residents Against Port Expansion, claimed said Harwich would become one of the country's worst pollution hot-spots if the development went ahead.

Environmental groups are expected to provide a number of challenges to the scheme at next month's enquiry.

The council support for the Bathside Bay Proposals is outlined in the 86-page report and states:

n The port is one of the best UK deep water locations close to shipping lanes.

n The site is well-placed to handle road and rail traffic to the Midlands and the North.

n The project will create an opportunity to secure 772 direct jobs by 2013 and 1,700 overall - with half to be filled by locally unemployed people - with benefits filtering through the local economy.

n The scheme will bring significant economic benefits to the area

n The historic old town of Harwich will be able to retain its "internal character" and appearance.

n The proposals will create a new tourism and recreation facility with the small boat harbour.

However, issues of concern include:

n The proposals will cause "considerable disruption" during construction and deprive Harwich old town of an important part of its current estuarine and peninsular setting.

n The adverse impact of the scheme on conservation interests of "national and international importance" which cannot be mitigated on site.

n The "significant impact" on the setting of the Harwich conservation area because of the port's scale, extent, size of vessels and proximity to its western side.

n That it will not be possible to mitigate the visual impact of the port when seen from the north, upper Dovercourt and parts of the conservation area.

n There will be less open water for crafts using the estuary and navigating it safely will become more difficult because of the large vessels.

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