Duke makes special visit to the region

THE Duke of Edinburgh received a blustery reception when he arrived on the East Anglian coast yesterday to open a lighthouse organisation's new building.

THE Duke of Edinburgh received a blustery reception when he arrived on the East Anglian coast yesterday to open a lighthouse organisation's new building.

As well as cutting the ribbon for Trinity House's new addition in Harwich, Prince Philip also travelled the short distance across the water to Felixstowe to examine the Suffolk port's plans for expansion.

There had been fears among many of the guests at Trinity House that Rebecca Robertson's dress might fly up in the strong winds while handing the Duke the ceremonial scissors to cut the ribbon.

For half an hour before Prince Philip arrived the Trinity House employee had nervously held her outfit down.

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But when the moment came at 11.45am, her composure and dignity remained intact - and the landmark structure was officially open for business.

Minutes earlier, the Duke, who as the Master of Trinity House had laid the foundation stone only last November when he visited the Essex port town with the Queen, spoke of the “dramatic” changes faced by the lighthouse organisation in the last 50 years.

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The 84-year-old told dozens of guests and about 50 residents lining the seafront: “The very rapid advances in technology over the last 500 years have dramatically changed the ways in which Trinity House meets its obligations to seafarers around the coasts.

“Many changes and improvements have been introduced over the years, but it became obvious that a drastic overhaul of the whole management system was needed.

“Three years ago, Trinity House embarked on a £40million improvement plan including building two new ships to be operational in the next couple of years.

“The plan also involved the closure of the depots at Great Yarmouth, East Cowes and Penzance and the establishment of this new centralised shore-support organisation at Harwich.

“In spite of all the inevitable disruption caused by this overhaul, I'm confident that the new organisation based here in Harwich will be a great success.”

The Duke, whose visit was part of the Royal Maritime Day celebrations across Britain yesterday, was then given a tour of the building by Rear Admiral Jeremy de Halpert, the chief executive of Trinity House, before attending a board meeting.

Among the guests was Captain Tony Poll, the Inspector of Seamarks, who said: “I've met the Duke seven or eight times now. He's a great character when you get to speak to him.

“When I was Commander of the Patricia - one of our two ships - he stayed aboard with us for Cowes Week in 1999.

“He's enthusiastic and engaging and has an amazing knowledge. One time he came up on the bridge dressed in an open neck shirt and slippers and said he was just looking for a safe spot to get out of the way of the Press and their long lenses. His presence here today is really appreciated.”

The new office building was designed with a nautical theme in which the front is clad in granite, a stone associated with the great offshore lighthouses.

Prince Phillip arrived at Felixstowe shortly after 3pm after travelling on the Harwich Patrol launch.

Wearing a cool cream hat with navy striped trim, which amazingly stayed fixed in place despite the strong winds, he met Chris Lewis, chief operating officer of the Port of Felixstowe, Clemence Cheng, finance director, Lord Tollemache, Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk and Major Phillip Hope-Cobbold, High Sheriff of Suffolk.

Other guests included mayor of Felixstowe, Cyril Webb, Jeremy Clover, the chairman of Suffolk County Council, and Malcolm Minns, chairman of Suffolk Coastal District Council.

The Duke was escorted by car to Tomline House, where he was shown an intricate model of the port and its expansion plans.

The model was produced to scale by a Trimley craftsman at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds.

Prince Phillip spent the best part of 20 minutes chatting to port staff and pointing out areas of the model he recognised.

Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager for the port, said: “We are very pleased that it's been decided to recognise the contribution the maritime industry makes to the country's economy.

“With the Royal family re-visiting various maritime related facilities, we are delighted that the Port of Felixstowe has been chosen as one of those to visit from the Duke of Edinburgh today.”

Prince Phillip left the port by car to Orwell High School, where he was collected by the Royal helicopter and taken back to London for an official engagement last night.

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