'Halt port plans' urges group

TWO massive developments at ports in the region should be put on hold, according to a new report released by an environment and transport watchdog.Portswatch called for the proposed expansions at Felixstowe and Harwich to be shelved until a national development strategy is drawn up.

TWO massive developments at ports in the region should be put on hold, according to a new report released by an environment and transport watchdog.

Portswatch called for the proposed expansions at Felixstowe and Harwich to be shelved until a national development strategy is drawn up.

The group's manifesto, called In Troubled Water, says the potential of existing ports should be explored and overall demand assessed nationally to limit damage to wildlife and local communities.

There are currently four major expansion schemes in the pipeline across the country - at Harwich and Felixstowe, Dibden Bay at Southampton and Shell Haven on the Thames.


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Graham Wynne, chief executive of the RSPB - one of the Portswatch members - said: "Whilst extra port capacity may be needed, the Government has so far failed to make the case.

"The sacrifice of so much of the wildlife for which the UK has an international responsibility to make way for new ports is unnecessary.

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"Giving consent to one port application without considering all the alternatives is plain daft and may well be illegal too.

"Only the Government can give proper strategic guidance on far-reaching land use applications.

"To fail to do so is absurd and an abdication of responsibility."

But, while Portswatch call for a hold on expansion, a major port operator warned yesterday that the country's container terminals could be so congested within two years that ships will be turned away.

Associated British Ports (ABP), which owns and operates 21 ports around the UK - including Ipswich - said there was an urgent need for more capacity to handle deep sea container ships.

"If we don't get that, customers and businesses will disappear to the continent," warned Bo Lerenius, group chief executive of Associated British Ports Holdings Plc.

"If that happens then goods and services will have to be reloaded and shipped to the UK and that will increase costs and prices."

And John Gummer, MP for the Suffolk Coastal area, last night backed expansion at Felixstowe and blasted the Portswatch report as "entirely wrong."

He added: "Felixstowe's success is essential if we are to compete. Otherwise, shipments of goods coming to Britain and being distributed through Felixstowe will instead go to Rotterdam - and that's not a good idea at all.

"I think we should all be supportive of our Felixstowe port."

Bob Feltwell, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: "We would not want to see any expansion put on hold at all.

"What we want to see is more positive moves towards getting the right infrastructure in place.

"International trade is vital to the economic success of the UK and we'd rather have our share in the East of England."

Meanwhile, Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager for Hutchinson Ports UK, which runs both Felixstowe and Harwich ports, said he didn't "entirely disagree" with the Portswatch report.

But he added: "We don't believe that a national port development strategy is necessary or desirable.

"We feel that there is enough capacity within the market to meet demand up until about 2008 - but we feel very strongly that new capacity will be needed.

"Those four developments are all container developments and that's where the need is. Between those four, they will provide enough capacity for the UK for the next 20 years.

"After 2008, if we don't get the expansion and are unable to handle the extra capacity, it will lead to inflationary pressures and a shortage of goods in shops - but I don't think it's necessary to let that happen."

However, Jenni Meredith, spokeswoman for Residents Against Port Expansion (RAPE) argued: "The figures of the growth on growth are just not sustainable.

"We dispute that building big port facilities is going to be a solution. It's like building more roads and saying that's the solution to having more cars - there's always more cars to fill them up."

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