Lifeline for town's tourism office?

By Ted JeoryTHE company which runs Harwich port could come to the rescue of the town's tourist centre after the county council pulled the plug on its funding.

By Ted Jeory

THE company which runs Harwich port could come to the rescue of the town's tourist centre after the county council pulled the plug on its funding.

Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd has held informal talks about how it could become involved in providing a tourist information centre in Harwich in the future and is set to meet the town's MP about the issue later this month.

It comes after Essex County Council decided to scrap the £50,000 budget for the centre, which is based in the car park of the Safeway store in Parkeston, as part of a drive to cut costs to ensure council tax bills stayed down next year.

The Harwich office is currently on a shortlist of three to be named the country's top tourist information centre.

But it will close in the spring unless other organisations come forward with the funding needed to run it.

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A spokesman for port operator Hutchison confirmed it had an interest in seeing the tourist information centre remain open.

“We've been approached by a few people and we will be discussing with other interested parties if there is any role that we can play,” he added.

“We would like to see the retention of some form of tourist information provision in Harwich. Obviously, we have a lot of people passing through our port and the longer they stay in the area, the better.”

Ivan Henderson, the Labour MP for Harwich, has written to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell asking for her help on the issue and he will be meeting Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd on September 19.

He said: “As the port is one of the two main entry points for overseas tourists entering Essex, it is important they are included in any discussions as to the possibility of retaining an information centre in Harwich.

“Although Essex County Council should reverse their decision, it is important we begin seeking alternatives.”

In his letter to Ms Jowell, he claimed the revenue generated by the “vital” office greatly outweighed the direct cost of running it.

Visit Britain, the organisation that oversees tourism in the UK, said about 95% of the tourist information centres in England were funded by a combination of local authorities and other consortia.

But Mick Page, the portfolio holder for regeneration at Tendring District Council, said no more local funding would be available.

Mr Page, who is also a member on the Conservative-led county council, said: “I don't agree with the county council decision, but it's been taken and we've got to accept it.

“Tendring council currently puts in £6,000 to £7,000 a year into the office at Harwich, as well as funding our other two centres at Walton and Clacton.

“There's no way we are going to put more than that in. Harwich is a special case because it is a gateway port and as such it's more of a regional office, so we need regional funding.”

Peter Martin, Essex County Council cabinet member for planning, enterprise and regeneration, said he had also had informal talks with Hutchison and was continuing to help find alternative sources of finance for the Harwich office.

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