Major port development gets go-ahead

A DECISION to give the go-ahead to a massive port development at Harwich has provided the “best Christmas present ever” for the Tendring area of Essex, a council leader claimed last night.

By Roddy Ashworth

A DECISION to give the go-ahead to a massive port development at Harwich has provided the “best Christmas present ever” for the Tendring area of Essex, a council leader claimed last night.

But Terry Allen's remarks were rejected by opponents of the Bathside Bay scheme who vowed to continue their fight against the proposals, which were subject of a six-month planning inquiry last year.

Shortly after 5pm yesterday, Government Transport Minister Derek Twigg revealed that he was minded to approve the plans.


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The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister also issued a letter indicating that its ministers were minded to approve the planning applications relating to the development.

Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited had applied to expand the existing Harwich International Port and create Harwich International Container Terminal in the adjoining Bathside Bay.

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The £300 million proposal would create a further 1,400m of quay, 11 ship-to-shore gantry cranes and depth capacity to deal with the largest container ships.

The minded approval came more than a year after a lengthy public inquiry, following which a planning inspector recommended in favour of the proposals, subject to conditions.

Mr Allen, leader of Tendring District Council, said last night: “This is excellent news for the area and especially for the future of our young people, with the number of jobs it will provide.

“It will also increase the prestige of the area. With a culmination of this, the Haven Gateway and the other major things happening in Tendring it has been a brilliant year for us.”

However, despite the Government backing, a spokesman stressed there were some matters which required further clarification, including making sure that the right conditions are imposed on the development to improve local roads in good time to provide congestion relief.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Twigg said: “We believe this expansion in ports capacity is justified by the economic benefits it will bring regionally and nationally, for UK industry and the economy.

“We understand at the same time that the new terminal will have a significant impact on the environment.

“This is why we agree that there should be controls imposed on the development, to provide new road and rail infrastructure so that congestion does not increase, to provide compensatory habitats for wildlife displaced by the scheme, and to reduce other environmental impacts such as noise, pollution and the visual impact.”

The public inquiry into the plans, which was chaired by Ken Smith, took exactly six months to conduct and hearings ended on October 21 last year.

Plans for the development had been revealed in the autumn of 2000 and generated much debate, with some people in Harwich implacably opposed to it on environmental, aesthetic and economic grounds.

Organisations against the proposal included the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Friends of the Earth and local pressure group Residents Against Port Expansion (RAPE).

Other people and groups, though, supported the proposals, believing the scheme would directly bring more than 700 jobs, create a further 900 in related services and boost the local economy by about £50 million a year.

Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager for Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited said yesterday's news was a major milestone for the project.

“We are very pleased with the Secretary of State's decision. At this stage we are still studying the letters we have received from the Government and the details.

“There are still outstanding issues and we will be responding to those.”

He added that if all went to plan it would probably take around five years to secure permission for the necessary upgrading of the A120 and for construction to begin.

Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Harwich, said: “This has been talked about for years and it is excellent it has got the go-ahead. It will make Harwich a premier port and will do a lot to regenerate the area.”

Former Labour MP and now advisor to Hutchison Ports UK, Ivan Henderson, also welcomed the news.

“For centuries shipping has provided the lifeblood for the Harwich area,” he said.

“I watched that lifeblood drain away throughout the 1980s and early 1990s to the point where there seemed little hope of secure and well paid employment for future generations of local people.

“This development will restore economic prosperity and confidence to Harwich and the surrounding areas and that is why the vast majority of local people have supported it from the beginning.”

Peter Martin, Essex County Council cabinet member for planning, environment and culture, said: “This development should be a real boost to the Essex economy and the county council has been supporting it for several years.

“It begins to make a coherent whole of the Haven Gateway plans and will provide jobs for many people in Colchester and Tendring.”

Haven Gateway chairman George Courtauld said: “Not only will Bathside Bay be a huge boost for the whole of the Haven Gateway, but it is also of crucial importance both regionally and nationally. It will confirm the Haven Gateway's position as the UK's most important cluster of ports.”

However Paula Whitney, Colchester and north Essex co-ordinator for friends of the Earth, said she could not believe the plans had been approved.

“I really thought we had won the argument at the inquiry,” she said.

“This is a devastating proposition and I only hope that it does not go ahead because there is no business for it.

“The environmental damage is horrible, the proximity to local residents is horrendous, and there will be 3,000 of the largest HGVs on the road per day flooding onto our already flooded, compacted road system.

“This will be like having something like Rotterdam standing on the Stour estuary along from its area of outstanding natural beauty and its delicate, fragile environment - if there is any opportunity we will be fighting this.”

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