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Container dream ends for outer harbour

PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 November 2010 | UPDATED: 09:31 12 November 2010

The giant cranes at the container port

The giant cranes at the container port

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2010

OUTER harbour plans to re-focus on renewable energy after the scrapping of the much-heralded container operation have received cautious backing from major business and council figures.

Having failed to attract any trade, the two £7m container cranes that have loomed over Great Yarmouth since their arrival in May last year are set to be removed – proving to some doubters that the business case for the £80m port was flawed all along.

But prominent figures at Great Yarmouth Borough Council and two major local companies say the port is well placed to benefit from the wind energy boom and have applauded the switch, hinting that new contracts may not be far off.

EastPort chief executive Eddie Freeman this week insisted the outer harbour, funded with £18m of taxpayers’ money, would still provide a major boost to the Yarmouth borough.

He said the port was well positioned to exploit the lucrative wind energy market and a large proportion of the 150 ships passing through the port this year were engaged in this industry.

He added: “We have to stay flexible and nimble and react to the times that we find ourselves in.

“The return on the £18m is already being felt, particulary through the fact that the outer harbour has stopped the decline of the port of Great Yarmouth.

“The river is trading at record levels and the outer harbour has done 150 ships this year.

“As one particular business opportunity dries up, then we have got to be in a position to exploit another, particularly the offshore and offshore renewables sectors.

“We have to move on, we can’t sit still.”

He called on doubters to rally behind the outer harbour, adding: “Wind energy bodes very well for Yarmouth and the region.I think it is a great prospect and we should not be talking it down, but talking it up. Lets get together and win our share of the market.”

have pointed to the possibilities opened up by a major upcoming wind farm project.

It emerged on Wednesday that the container terminal was being closed after an agreement between Eastport and terminal operators PSA Great Yarmouth, due to the a decision attributed to a global slump in the container business.

But though borough council leader Barry Coleman accepted that the movewithdrawal was “disappointing”, he remained upbeat about the port’ its prospects.

“There’s a big opportunity for the offshore energy sector, and I’m confident having spoken to the port managers that they are doing all they can on this. Within the next month or so I think we may hear more.”

In 2015, work will begin on a £21bn windfarm off Norfolk’s coastline which consists of 1700 turbines and which is tipped tois hoped will bring up to 10,000 jobs to the east of England.

“I think the positive thing about the port is that it can adapt to circumstances and change, and we have to realise that when plans were being made for the outer harbour we were in a different commercial situation.” Mr Coleman added.

Graham Plant, portfolio holder for tourism and regeneration at the council, said: “I assume that they’ve looked at the upcoming energy offer and positioned themselves for it, so if the cranes were in the way of that then I’m all for it.”

Mr Plant who also holds theAnd the county council portfoliocabinet member for travel and transport said that shelving he container plans would not also denied that the withdrawal would damage other Yarmouth projects such as the third river crossing.

Eastport has come under fire over the container terminal in recent months after it apparently rejected the opportunity to use the cranes to transport power station parts to Africa.

More general criticism has been prompted by reports that ships were unable to birth in the port due to the size of the swell.

Peter Barry, is managing director of Pasta foods, a Yarmouth-based world leader in producing snack pellets .

Though Mr Barry said that he was also disappointed with the news, as he had considered using the container terminal to export to Northern Europe, buthe was keen to stress the move could be a positive one in the long run.

“If you look at the wider issues, if not having the container port is going to mean a great investment into the area through renewable technology then that could give the town great job opportunities.”

Chiming in with this enthusiasm was Sue Crothers, marketing co-ordinator for renewables at Gardline, a locally based global business who provide support for offshore firms.

S She said the move could present a “great opportunity for development” in the area and added that it was a “good move in the long run”.

However, former port welfare officer John Cooper dismissed such optimism, and said that Yarmouth had become a “laughing stock” because of the outer harbour.

“First of all we were going to have the ferry, and then overnight we were told that this was not viable so we were going to have containers.

“Now two and a half years down the line it’s windfarms- they don’t know what they’re doing.

“We’re a laughing stock up the east coast and this is going to do millions of pounds worth of damage to local companies. .”

Former Yarmouth docker Steven Drew, who worked at the port for 25 years, and was one of those20 dockers made redundant by Eastport in October 2009 after the port started using casual labour during the recession.

He called for a public inquiry into Eastport’s handling of the outer harbour and said the port operator’s bosses should be accountable for how they spent public money.

Mr Drew, who now works as a service technician in the offshore industry, said: “I am still very bitter about how we were treated. In my opinion, we were victims of the outer harbour and the Eastport bosses should be accountable for how they have handled the harbour because they have not delivered.”

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