Critics call for thorough review of harbour

Campaigners sceptical of what has been delivered so far by Great Yarmouth’s outer harbour are demanding that a Norfolk County Council review of the project “should not be a whitewash”.

Critics, including Potter Heigham county councillor Paul Rice, have questioned whether tax payers have got a good return on their �17.9m investment and highlight the failure of the container venture, the lack of a ferry business and the lack of promised jobs so far.

However, champions of the port, including borough council leader Barry Coleman, have hailed a report on EastPort being presented to the cabinet scrutiny committee on December 21, as a vindication of their role in promoting the scheme.

The report, prepared to coincide with the end of the first year of port operations, could be followed by a further scrutiny meeting in February when Eddie Freeman, chief executive of Eastport, and Peter Hardy, director of the Eastport project from 2000-2007, could be called to give evidence.

The detailed paper traces the development of the project from its outset and rebuts many of the concerns that have been raised.

It says the budget for the project was accurately predicted with no significant cost creep and a strong endorsement of its business case came from the fact that all funding partners - from the EU to Eeda - accepted it.

The report says the economic downturn impacted on plans for a ro-ro ferry and container terminal but stresses the container terminal investment was wholly a private sector one.

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Critically, it says the prediction for up to 750 new jobs could still be achieved over the next 10 to 15 years.

Addressing criticism of its design, the report says the harbour swell caused by south-easterly winds also affected other ports such as Felixstowe, and the position of the entrance had been determined by hydraulic modelling.

County council cabinet member for transport Graham Plant said: “Going through scrutiny, what will be shown in public is how the process went in a proper fashion. It will show Yarmouth has a great asset for the future.

“This is just the start for the outer harbour, not the end of it. We have now got a fantastic vehicle for reaching Europe and it is up to us to build on it.”

Mr Coleman said the report appeared to endorse the view of the outer harbour taken by the vast majority of people.

He said: “The harbour is there for 100 years. Nothing has been given away or lost.”

The fact it had an exciting future was endorsed by the “hard-nosed business people who have invested upwards of �60m in it”.

The outer harbour had already breathed new life into the river port that had been struggling badly a decade ago, he added.

Mr Rice insisted scrutiny should not “be a whitewash” and said there was a strong case for issues raised to become the subject of an inquiry by the government’s department of business, innovation and skills.

He said he had been bombarded with concerns about EastPort, from jobs lost at the time of the takeover to other companies in the port area claiming they are being obstructed by such issues as not being allowed to renew their lease.

“I have reservations about plans for the harbour having been altered, which would appear to have designed faults in rather than out,” he said.

Mr Rice questioned whether the failure of the container business could be blamed on the economic downturn when other ports were investing in the container sector.