Pressure over port expansion

PLANNERS are today facing enormous pressure as they struggle to deal with huge proposals to expand Britain's biggest port with deadlines looming closer.

PLANNERS are today facing enormous pressure as they struggle to deal with huge proposals to expand Britain's biggest port with deadlines looming closer.

Senior officers have already been granted one extension in which to make comments about Felixstowe port's multi-million pound project - and now they are seeking more time.

Internal memos at Suffolk Coastal show some officers have doubts whether their report will be ready for councillors for their target of a March committee meeting, two months after the normal deadline for deciding an application.

Outside organisations which have been consulted are also struggling and several have asked, "understandably" according to senior planning officer Paul Coffey in one memo, for more time.

In addition, the council is having to deal with proposals for a wind farm at Parham, development of Notcutt's Woodbridge site, and Woodbridge air base - all of which are requiring a huge amount of officer time.

Felixstowe port's proposals to redevelop its southern container terminal will have an enormous long-term impact on the area.

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Figures show the scheme - which will increase capacity at the port to 5.2 million containers a year - will mean nearly one million more lorry journeys a year on the A14.

While it will provide 1,500 extra jobs and boost the economy, there are concerns that it will mean more air pollution, light and noise.

Details of the officers' problems are revealed in the council's public files on the planning application.

But they also show that the council is determined to bring forward a full report on the port's proposals, as this will be needed in the event of any public inquiry.

In addition to the pressure on the council's small but hardworking planning team, its environmental health department is faced with spending up to £10,000 to check the port's consultants' figures on air quality as they already have some doubts over claims that the extension will make no difference to pollution levels.

The port could appeal against non-determination of its application as it has not been decided in eight weeks, but with hundreds of pages of consultants' reports to analyse, the council has appealed for longer.

As well as the planning application, the council also has to comment on a Harbour Revision Order (HRO).

If there is one objection to the HRO - as with the port's last expansion project - a public inquiry will be held. But GO-East, the government's regional office, might decide to "call in" in the project and hold an inquiry in any case.

The council has received a wide range of views and concerns so far from its consultation, with the RSPB, English Nature and Suffolk Wildlife Trust all saying that the development will have a "significant effect" on the environment.

The groups' main concerns are erosion of the river banks, changes to the intertidal area and the habitat created to mitigate for the last expansion.

n Are you worried about the port expansion - what problems do you think it will bring? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

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