Suffolk: Campaigners blast plan to turn East Anglian coast into “oil tanker terminal”

CAMPAIGNERS last night accused Parliament of backing a plan to turn Suffolk’s coast into one of the world’s largest ‘oil tanker terminals’.

A committee of MPs with powers to pass laws last night voted to make an area of Sole Bay the only offshore zone within UK territorial waters where tankers can exchange oil at sea.

The vote means millions of barrels of oil can be transferred between ships off the East Anglian coast.

The decision was immediately condemned by opponents who said oil transfers at sea risked not only the environment, but also the area’s �250million tourism industry which employs 6,000 people.

John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, vowed he would keep fighting the plan.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” he said. “We heard nothing new but at least there was public debate. Our attitude is that tourism and the oil industry do not mix.

“This decision means we are under permanent risk of an oil spill and I think the Government was rather arrogant in its attitude towards safety. This process has taken two years and in that time there have been incidents in New Zealand and off Ireland. It proves accidents do happen. Nothing out there is absolutely safe.”

Most Read

He accused Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey of ‘backing an oil tanker terminal’ in her own constituency and labelled the decision a ‘reckless piece of legislation’ he ‘prayed we will not live to regret’.

But Transport Minister Mike Penning hit back accusing critics of the plan of “scare-mongering” and arguing that officals had considered the decision carefully and come to the right decision.

Addressing MPs at the meeting Mr Penning said: “What concerns me is the degree of scare-mongering that has been going on and I’m really surprised about that when [opposition MPs] talk about the possible sheer amount of leakage that might take place. Actually it has an impeccable safety record by all standards.”

Currently ship-to-ship transfers can take place anywhere off the coast around the UK. The previous government had wanted to see them limited to harbour authority waters.

But as the Labour administration left power and tried to pass the change through it was blocked by Conservative MPs, including Ms Coffey and Mr Aldous.

The alternative proposal brought forward by the new coalition administration, and passed last night, will see a transfer zone created 12 miles off Southwold with a 1.5-mile radius. The policy will be reviewed in five years time.

Bob Blizzard, the former Labour MP for Waveney who is planning to stand in the seat again at the next election, said: “The disappointing thing is that neither of the MPs from Suffolk Coastal or Waveney were on the committee taking this decision. To her credit Therese turned up, but Peter didn’t even do that.

“I believe this is an unacceptable risk to the coastal environment and that the valuable tourism industry. People are very concerned about it.”

Ms Coffey said the Government had agreed to carry out an emergency planning exercise to help authorities prepare for any mishaps that might occur in the future.

She said: “We’re pleased that the minister said there would be a fresh exercise and there is the [five year] review in place and he said he would keep a watchful eye on it.

“So we did get some concessions from the minister in terms of the exercise and it is important that local people feel taht if there’s a problem that it will be addressed.”

Ms Coffey, who expressed concern that the proposal would make Southwold a “flashing beacon” for tanker transfers, admitted it might have been “a mistake” to oppose previous proposals.

Meanwhile Mr Aldous stood by theGovernment’s decision and said: “This is an industry that is well run and well regarded and has a very good record and there isn’t a case for banning it.”