Town to hold port expansion referendum
By Ted JeoryCAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after a town council decided to hold a landmark referendum on a controversial port expansion plan.Harwich residents will now be able to vote on whether they support or oppose Hutchison Whampoa's proposal to build a deep-water container port on Bathside Bay after the town council agreed to hold the referendum.
By Ted Jeory
CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after a town council decided to hold a landmark referendum on a controversial port expansion plan.
Harwich residents will now be able to vote on whether they support or oppose Hutchison Whampoa's proposal to build a deep-water container port on Bathside Bay after the town council agreed to hold the referendum.
Jenni Meredith, spokeswoman for campaign group Residents against Port Expansion, said it was "excited" about the prospect of the referendum.
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"The environmental impacts of this scheme will be huge. This is not some run-of-the-mill conservatory extension application we're talking about," she added.
"The council has to treat it differently. Now we're taking democracy back to the people and it gives us a chance to have a bit more control over our futures.
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"We also need the council to arrange a public meeting prior to the vote to allow people to have a proper debate. Even, if we don't win the referendum, at least it gauges public opinion. People in Mistley and Shotley are also greatly affected – they should do what we're doing."
More than 60 campaigners opposed to the port expansion attended a meeting of Harwich Town Council, waving placards and demanding the right to vent their fury against the planned development.
Councillors had been due to decide on their recommendations on the proposal to Tendring District Council, which has been granted extra time to make a decision on the scheme.
But in recognition of the strength of feeling, the town council decided to defer its decision to allow for the landmark public ballot to take place.
Harwich town councillor Bill Bleakley, who proposed the motion to defer a decision, said: "I've been an elected member for 40 years now on and off and I can't recall a single referendum being called in that time.
"It may well be that we have to post ballot papers to all 10,000 properties in the town – it's a grey area."
Although the outcome of the vote will not be binding on the decision-makers at Tendring District Council, they will be obliged by law to consider the strength of any opposition.
The port expansion plan has divided opinion in Harwich with those in favour, including the town's MP, arguing almost 800 jobs would be created if it went ahead.
Ivan Henderson, the Labour MP for Harwich, said: "If there is to be a referendum, people who have been coming up to me saying what a good idea the plans are need to make sure they are heard – they're the silent majority, not the protesters. Without the expansion, I don't know where Harwich is going."
Paul Davey, spokesman for Harwich International Port operators Hutchison Ports (UK) Limited – a Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary – said it was prepared to press ahead with the development, even if the referendum went against the scheme.
"A referendum will only indicate the views of those people who bother to vote in it – we don't even know what the questions will be," he added.
"We commissioned a NOP opinion poll and that demonstrated 84% support for our proposal. The referendum is only part of the procedure – we have to go through the whole process.
"The Government will have the final say and we will abide by their decision – that's the correct process."