Port plans should be looked at together

PLANS to expand the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich should be scrutinised at a joint public inquiry, claims a preservation group in a formal request to Government officials to revise arrangements.

PLANS to expand the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich should be scrutinised at a joint public inquiry, claims a preservation group in a formal request to Government officials to revise arrangements.

The 1,500-member Suffolk Preservation Society has told officials that a joint inquiry is justified because both schemes could have a "significant impact" on the Stour and Orwell estuary, the surrounding environment and on transport infrastructure.

However, Hutchison Ports, the company behind both projects said yesterday that the public consultation period for the Felixstowe development had not yet been completed and that it was by no means certain it would result in a public inquiry being held.

"We could not speculate ahead of the consultation process. Decisions on public inquiries are, in any case, in the hands of the Secretary of State," said a spokeswoman.

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Richard Ward, Suffolk Preservation Society director, said a planning application for a substantial expansion of the Felixstowe Port terminal had now been submitted to Suffolk Coastal District Council whereas the Bathside Bay inquiry was imminent.

"Clearly, both proposals could have a significant impact on the estuary and surrounding environment.

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"Furthermore, their joint impact on transport and traffic infrastructure in Suffolk, Essex and the eastern region is a strategic issue which must warrant both proposals being considered jointly," Mr Ward said.

"If a joint inquiry is not held there will be a real danger that the impact of these proposals will not be fully understood or considered.

"Should this happen there will be a failure to ensure the proper planning of the region. A joint inquiry would address these concerns and, more importantly, allow for a comprehensive examination of the need for either or both of these proposals," he added.

Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman in East Anglia, said the society was in favour of a strategic review of national port requirements rather than considering every new plan in isolation.

"You could argue that having a joint inquiry for Bathside bay and Felixstowe would be doing this on a local basis and would be a step in the right direction. However, it is not quite the same as having a national strategy," he said.

Mr Durdin said the RSPB had fewer environmental worries over the Felixstowe expansion than with the Bathside Bay development.

"At Felixstowe it is essentially re-use of an area that has already been used. There will be some extra dredging operations and a little extra erosion caused by dredging operations but these can be compensated for by habitat enhancement work elsewhere," he said.

Much of the Stour and Orwell estauaries already comprise a Special Protection Area (SPA) under European law.

Bathside Bay has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a potential extension to the SPA.

By Rachel Ricks

Suzanne Walker, Essex county chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPREssex), said yesterday: "We do feel that this is of such importance to the east of England. It is the second large port appeal in Essex.

"Harwich and Felixstowe should be heard as one. The natural and human environmental problems will be affected on each side of the estuary.

"Inspectors would have to examine both, so it seems to make sense to hear the views of a panel of inspectors once only, rather than have people repeat themselves.

"Either development will effect the flow of the river and mud movement that will make a great difference not only in the immediate area but upstream also."

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