Port expansion inquiry starts

A PUBLIC inquiry to decide whether a £300million port expansion can go ahead in an Essex town will begin today. Hundreds of organisations and individuals are expected to give evidence before government planning inspector Ken Smith during the five-month hearing.

A PUBLIC inquiry to decide whether a £300million port expansion can go ahead in an Essex town will begin today.

Hundreds of organisations and individuals are expected to give evidence before government planning inspector Ken Smith during the five-month hearing.

Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited (HPUK) wants to develop a new deep-water container port next to Harwich International Port in Harwich.

It will reclaim adjoining Bathside Bay to develop Harwich International Port Container Terminal, with 1,400metres of quay, 11 ship-to-shore gantry cranes and the capacity to deal with the latest container ships.

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The project could make the port the second largest container port in the UK.

HPUK, which also owns neighbouring Felixstowe Port, claims the expansion would create 772 new jobs directly with a further 900 in supporting industries and services, and generate £50m a year for the local economy.

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The plans have been met with a mixture of fierce opposition and wholehearted support from local residents. Groups for and against the scheme have been set up in response to the proposals which were first revealed in October 2000.

The public inquiry is due to begin at 10am at the Trade Car Services Building off Stour Road in Harwich.

HPUK Corporate Affairs Manager, Paul Daveysaid: “This is the start of a very important process for the town of Harwich. The public inquiry will give everyone interested in the development the opportunity to register their views.

“The development of a new container facility at Bathside Bay will bring many benefits, not just to Harwich, but to the region as a whole."

Richard Pearson, the managing director of HPUK, said: “Ships are getting larger as a response to consumer demand for more and more goods, and it is vital that the UK has sufficient deep-water container facilities to accommodate these very large vessels.

“Bathside Bay has a number of advantages as the site for these essential new facilities, and its development will help provide container capacity for the future.”

Jenni Meredith, for Residents Against Port Expansion (RAPE), said the inquiry was premature because HPUK had not completed its environmental impact assessment and the government was yet to confirm whether Bathside Bay was a special protected area.

“It is a technicality but we still feel they could have waited to be more in keeping with the law. We object to all the habitat loss and don't feel that it is justified.”

Ms Meredith said RAPE believed the port would eventually become automated and the port “would not keep its promise about jobs.”

She added that the noise created would be worse than that at Felixstowe and that residents could hear crates banging at the town's port four miles away.

But Geoff Bull, for Support Port Expansion and Kill Off Unemployment (Speakout), said Harwich's economy needed the boost the port would bring.

He said: “I have lived in Harwich for over 40 years and the expansion needs to go ahead because the economy of the town depends on it.

“If it doesn't go ahead the town will die. At the moment there is no new business in the town and no new money in the town and no jobs.”

Mr Bull, associate secretary and vice chairman of Harwich Traders' Association, said Speakout was supported by groups including the town's chamber of commerce, Dovercourt Traders and the local Licensed Victuallers' Association.

Canon Stephen Hardie, rural dean of Harwich, said: “On balance I think it is a good thing for the town.

“I feel that the area concerned has for a long time been earmarked for commercial type use.

“It was not a wildlife area until a short while ago, it is an area which for a long time has been earmarked for port use. There is also a need for employment in the town.

“Those are the things I would put down in favour of it. I believe it will increase the town's prosperity and put it further on the map.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) will warn the inquiry that at least 65 hectares of nationally and internationally important wildlife sites will be concreted over if the port was built.

In a statement it said: “Bathside Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a proposed Special Protection Area under the EU's Birds Directive in recognition of its importance to wild birds.

“The ringed plover, oystercatcher, shelduck and dark-bellied Brent goose are amongst bird species depending on Bathside Bay, where more than 3,000 birds roost and 1,300 feed in winter.”

The RSPB will call on the Government to consider the Bathside Bay proposal alongside the three other major container port schemes in the pipeline before deciding any of the applications.

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