Harwich: Political leaders hit out at Bathside Bay delay

THE long awaited plans for a �300million port development in Essex have been dealt a major blow by the Government.

The Bathside Bay container port scheme - which would create hundreds of jobs - is likely to be delayed even further after it was announced a public inquiry would have to take place before any works begin.

Politicians have hit out at the decision, which has been made by the Department for Communities and Local Government, describing it as “tragedy” for the area.

It is understood the inquiry will investigate whether recent amendments to the planning application will require a further exemption from European wildlife laws.

Environmentalists who oppose the scheme raised concerns over the impact to wildlife on the estuary which is home to migrating waders and other birds.

The initial application, which was approved in 2006, received an exemption from the environment laws providing compensatory habitats for wildlife were set-up. It also stipulated upgrades to the A120 were completed before the work began.

But two years ago, the company behind the development - Hutchison Ports UK - sought permission to carry out initial work before the road improvements were finished.

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This week the Government said it would have to launch an inquiry to find out whether the variation in the application would require a fresh exemption under the EU Habitats Directive.

Conservative MP for Harwich and north Essex Bernard Jenkin said: “This is extremely disappointing and frustrating, and will mean that it is much harder to attract investment to Harwich and Parkeston. An area of high unemployment and social deprivation is blighted by planning uncertainty and this is now set to continue.

“I am mystified about why it has taken the Government so long to decide to have a public inquiry. They could have decided this at least 18 months ago, and we would have had the planning decisions settled. I am going to find out why the Government seems to have dithered without in the end delivering a positive decision. If necessary, I will ask the Ombudsman to investigate whether there has been maladministration.

“However, it is absolutely clear the EU is the fundamental obstacle. The Habitats Directive is the reason given for calling in this decision for a public inquiry.”

The project, which would see the quay length doubled to 2,500 metres and have 11 ship-to-shore cranes, was put on hold after the economic downturn.

But last year the port operator was thrown a life line when it was given a ten year extension to begin work from the Secretary of State for Transport.

Leader of Tendring District Council Neil Stock said: “Yet again we have been shafted by the Government. We have been pushing for this for ten years and now there’s going to be another delay, it’s a tragedy. We need this development for Harwich, for Tendring and the whole eastern region.”

But Harwich Peninsular Friends of the Earth has come out in support of the latest Government announcement.

Co-ordinator, Paul Reece said: “We support the Government’s decision to hold a Public Enquiry into the significant environmental issues surrounding the Bathside Development, which will at last allow a proper debate of the unique environmental issues of this very important habitat. We will be actively be monitoring the situation.”

Paul Davey from Hutchison Ports UK said: “We will be studying the decision and will respond in due course.”

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