Port operator refutes Harwich fears

A COMPANY at the centre of controversial plans for a multi-million pound development at an East Anglian port has hit back at "unsubstantiated" claims made by worried campaigners.

A COMPANY at the centre of controversial plans for a multi-million pound development at an East Anglian port has hit back at "unsubstantiated" claims made by worried campaigners.

Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd went on the offensive, saying its proposals for a new deep-water container terminal at Bathside Bay in Harwich could usher in new-found prosperity for the town.

Fears have been voiced that the development could ruin environmentally-protected wildlife habitat and destroy tourism in the town.

But these were all flatly refuted last night.

In a letter written to Harwich MP Ivan Henderson, the company's communications manager, Paul Davey, addressed claims made in leaflets circulating in and around the town.

He rubbished rumours the new terminal would be automated and stressed up to 2,000 skilled and unskilled jobs could be created for local people.

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Although wage rates for the new development had not yet been finalised, average annual earnings in Felixstowe's container terminal were £28,000, nearly £12,000 higher than in the Tendring district, he said.

And it is not true there would be an increase in respiratory diseases such as asthma because of toxic emissions.

But last night, Jenni Meredith, spokeswoman for RAPE (Residents Against Port Expansion), which has distributed leaflets in Harwich, called for a public debate with Mr Davey.

She said: "We stand by everything we have said in public. All our arguments are substantiated – much of it from Hutchison's own sources, so they seem to contradict themselves."

"A lot of people would like to meet Mr Davey because there are a lot of questions they are worried about.

"He just needs to clarify a few things."

Mayor of Harwich Les Double said he welcomed Hutchison's move saying it was a "good thing" the company was addressing the issues.

He said some of the negative impacts of the plans some of which may have been made out to be a "a bit more negative than they actually are".

If the development gets the go ahead following a public inquiry – possibly later this year – Harwich could become the second largest container port in the UK, with its quay length doubled to 3,000 metres.

Mr Davey said he wanted to put all the "facts" in the public domain. His case centred around nine claims made by campaigners:

1. The number of jobs promised will not materialise because the terminal will be automated

"We have repeatedly stressed the terminal will not be automated. It will be manual and 772 jobs could be created. A further 500 indirect jobs are expected in road haulage and freight forwarding etc as well as 430 additional jobs in shops etc through the "multiplier effect" as a result of the increased economic activity.

2. There will be no jobs guaranteed for local people/ the only jobs for locals will be unskilled and low paid.

"All jobs will be available to suitably skilled local people. It is expected the majority will come from the Tendring district."

3. There will be increased respiratory diseases such as asthma in and around Harwich due to toxic emissions from lorries and ships.

"There is no evidence to suggest people living in the vicinity of other similar ports suffer any adverse health effects. A health impact study will soon be published by Tendring Primary Care Trust."

4. Erosion, in particular on the Shotley side, will increase significantly.

"Without mitigation, the development would lead to increased erosion, but the planned release of sediment in the rivers to replace that which is lost will negate this impact."

5. There is no need for additional container port capacity.

"There is a common consent there will be a shortage of capacity in coming years and this conclusion has even been reached by the RSPB."

6. Harwich has a thriving tourist industry – this will be destroyed by the development.

Many organisations, including Tendring District Council, believe the developments can go ahead in such a way as to have a positive impact on local tourism. Experience at Felixstowe has shown shipping provides a significant tourist attraction."

7. Harwich should concentrate on regeneration through sympathetic and fitting means such as tourism rather than anew port.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

8. The A120 cannot handle additional traffic.

"The transport assessment has shown that the existing infrastructure, with some modifications, is sufficient."

9. The development will ruin a site of tremendous beauty and environmental significance.

"We have undertaken to work closely with environmental organisations to minimise the impact wherever possible. Where not possible, a package of mitigation and compensation measures will be implemented."

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