Port plan inquiry looms

A CONTROVERSIAL plan for a new container port near Harwich been dealt a blow after district councillors agreed to tell the government about its concerns about its environmental affects.

A CONTROVERSIAL plan for a new container port near Harwich been dealt a blow after district councillors agreed to tell the government about its concerns about its environmental affects.

Babergh District Council's strategy committee have endorsed residents' fears over the possible environmental impact including noise, light and extra traffic,

Created by the Bathside Bay deep port plans for Harwich.

Hutchinson Ports which also operates Felixstowe Port, wants to build a container port, quay side wall, cranes, a rail terminal and area for future development.

Protestors in Harwich and on Shotley Peninsula who will be on either side of the proposed development, have already expressed fears over the development and many are calling for a public inquiry.

They are worried about the effects on tourism, wildlife and the environment, and fear the deep dredging needed will alter tides and accelerate coastal erosion.

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They are also concerned about the possibility of constant noise from the 24-hour operation and the increased traffic it will create on the A120 road from Harwich.

The council committee yesterday agreed a formal response to an environment statement produced for the developers into the likely outcomes of the proposal to extend and deepen the river's shipping channel and build a new quay.

Colin Spence, committee chairman, was keen to emphasise it was not objecting to the application itself, but rather to the issues associated with noise, lighting and highway concerns upon the Shotley peninsular.

He explained: "The committee is keen to engage in a positive debate with Hutchinson Ports since it is aware of the potential benefits to the local and national economies. Nonetheless, the committee does feel that it has a duty to raise its concerns with the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLG)."

Stuart Aikman, of Harwich-based protest group Spindrift, said he was heartened by the council decision.

He said: "We are trying to bring all the facts out into the open. A lot of people seem to be blinded by the good or the good that has been promised, and are perhaps unaware of the disadvantages which could be there.

"Of course I'm pleased with the council decision but what we are hoping for is a public inquiry into the plans and we hope that will be soon.

Mr Aikman added that he was concerned about the jobs implications and the fact that the application to expand was based on an economic growth rate which had not materialised.

Penny Clarke agreed there was a proportion of the population in Shotley that welcomed the development in terms of job creation and other benefits, including the potential for foot passenger links across the river.

"But," she continued, "I am alarmed for the house owners in Shotley Gate, because I don't see how they will be compensated for the disturbance they will suffer. Clearly, the construction period and subsequent operation of the port will severely affect people's ability to sleep at night, particularly in the summer months when they cannot be expected to keep their windows closed.

"There is also the question of light pollution, and I cannot see how these problems can be mitigated. This is quite bad news for Shotley, which already suffers from operations at Felixstowe, with noise travelling extensively over open water."

Patrick Mann, Shotley parish council chairman said Babergh council's decision to agree the recommendation was good news.

Mr Mann said: "Our real concerns are the erosion of the riverbanks. We already have two footpaths closed because of the dredging.

"We want it to go to a public inquiry where our fears can be voiced. At least to afford us a public inquiry it would be better for everybody and everyone can be represented by experts."

Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager at Hutchison Ports, said: "We are aware that a number of concerns have been raised about the development and will be looking at all the matters raised in response to the consultation exercise.

"We followed all the procedures required by the government to date and if they decide that there should be a public inquiry then we will go down that road."

Mr Aikman, Eileen and Stephanie Tyrar, chairman and president of HEAT (Harwich Environmental Action Team), Tim Mason, chairman of Shotley-based Starboard group, and members Suzanne Gallagher and Bob Sayars, were joined by South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions to present a 1,600 signature petition last month.

The petition calling for apublic inquiry was given to Shane Snow, private secretary of junior transport minister David Jamieson, minister responsible for shipping and ports.

Speaking after the meeting, Neil Greig, head of planning and economic development, said: "The committee wanted to send out a clear message that any negative effects arising from the development on the peninsular should be both minimised during construction work and fully mitigated, and compensated for thereafter."

Other objectors include the RSPCA, and local environmental groups Spindrift, HEAT and Starboard.

At the moment the Government is considering two other plans for container ports in Britain near Southampton and Tilbury, and it is believed at least one will not be given clearance.