HARBOUR IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Concerns addressed

THE representatives of International Port Holdings (IPH), Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Great Yarmouth Port Authority sought to allay concerns raised by Yarmouth residents and harbour critics.

IPH vice-chairman Eliza O’Toole, Peter Hardy, the Port Authority’s former executive director and Richard Packham, the borough council’s managing director, addressed a number of issues raised by harbour critic John Cooper, including the perceived lack of jobs created by the harbour, the future of Gorleston’s pier car park, the likelihood of a ferry service operating from the outer harbour and the situation with Haven Bridge.

They also addressed allegations they dodged state aid regulations to secure taxpayer funding at County Hall in Norwich on Tuesday.

Listed below are some of the concerns and the response of the port representatives:

State aid:


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Mr Cooper said the harbour operators had failed to adhere to state aid regulations by not involving all stakeholders in the management and maintenance of the outer harbour and giving the port authority a single share, worth �1.75.

However, Mr Hardy said the harbour operators had been careful to separate money that would be spent on the outer harbour from money to be spent on public infrastructure, as required by state aid regulations. He said an EU commissioner said the plans met state aid regulations.

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He added: “I saw Mr Cooper’s remark about the single share for the port authority circumnavigating state aid, but I can say categorically that that was not the case.”

Haven Bridge:

Mr Cooper asked why the county council had taken on full responsibility for the maintenance, improvement and if necessary partial reconstruction of the bridge from the port authority at great expense to local taxpayers.

Up until 2007, the port authority had owned, operated and maintained the 80-year-old bridge crossing spanning the River Yare from Hall Quay to Pasteur Road.

However, Mr Hardy said the council had taken on the responsibility because of the growing number of vehicles using the bridge; there were 23,000 vehicles crossing daily in 2009, and its importance as a transport link. By contrast, only leisure craft needed the bridge to open.

He added: “There are statutory powers for the council to take over the running of the bridge. The issue of liability was one that was latent within the port and discussed as part of the transactions over the outer harbour.”

Job creation:

Mr Cooper said the original mandate for the outer harbour stated jobs would be created, but the lack of trade through the harbour meant this objective had not been fulfilled.

However, Ms O’Toole said the port had grown and a number of new tenants had arrived, including one which had invested �5m in new facilities.

She added Eastport UK chief executive Eddie Freeman was negotiating with a number of possible new investors in the port, though details of these negotiations could not be revealed as they were commercially sensitive.

The offshore sector spends �300,000 a week in Yarmouth and will have spent �3m in Yarmouth and the surrounding area within the next two years, Ms O’Toole added.

However, detailed analysis of jobs created by the outer harbour was not expected to be known for years until the harbour project had settled down.

Ferry service:

Mr Cooper asked what had happened to the planned ferry service operating from the outer harbour, which had been part of the original vision for the harbour.

Mr Hardy said a ferry service used to operate from Yarmouth during the 1970s and the industry had experienced considerable growth during the 1970s, 80s and 90s until the collapse of financial services firm Lehman Brothers in 2008, triggering the global recession.

Ms O’Toole said ferry services had been hit hard by the financial crisis and the harbour operators had to go to where the money was.

She added: “In respect of roll on, roll off (ro-ro) services, we have not given up on that. Great Yarmouth is a great location and ro-ros require a great location.

“However, the industry is very depressed and ro-ros rely on good tonnage. We can’t attract a ro-ro to the port unless the ro-ro is going to be a viable business.”

Gorleston pier car park:

Former Yarmouth MP Tony Wright raised concerns about the situation with the car park at the South Pier, which had been closed on health and safety grounds.

He said pier owners Eastport UK had increased public animosity towards the outer harbour project by failing to address the concerns of residents who had regularly visited the pier to buy an ice cream and watch ships coming in.

He added: “People used to go down and have an ice cream and look at the ships. Suddenly, it has been closed off to people.”

While this issue was not addressed directly by the port representatives, Ms O’Toole said the harbour operators needed to communicate better with Yarmouth residents.

Leases:

Mr Cooper raised a concern that companies on the South Denes peninsula close to the outer harbour were struggling to get their leases renewed, yet it was Eastport UK’s prime rationale that local businesses would be protected.

However, Mr Packham said three or four leases had been renewed recently for 15 years when the normal duration would have been 10 years and a further four requests for lease extensions were set to be granted.

He added there were one or two companies that did not need deep water facilities who were looking into moving elsewhere in the town.

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