Outer harbour campaigner is retiring from public life

HIS fight for the truth over “secret” deals that saw Great Yarmouth’s port signed over to a private company has lasted nearly four years.

But John Cooper says his efforts have begun to affect his health, and the retired port welfare officer has decided to throw in the towel.

The Gorleston great grandfather remains convinced that Yarmouth taxpayers have got an unfair deal over the outer harbour development, and that locals are footing bills for a project that will benefit big business.

But after being met by barrier after barrier in his hunt for information from the council and the port company, he says he has had enough and is retiring from public life.

“I’ve lost weight and sleep and it’s caused me a lot of stress,” said Mr Cooper, who is 74 years old.

“I’ve had major surgery for cancer, my sight in my left eye is not what it should be and the closed doors were affecting my health.

“I feel I’ve not made progress except highlighting things that have happened - that this council has done - to the benefit of the private company but to the detriment of the ratepayer.”

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Since 2007, Mr Cooper has lodged countless requests under the Freedom of Information Act, submitted a 17-page complaint to the borough council about the deal and even stood as an Independent in a Norfolk County Council by-election on a platform of getting to the heart of the outer harbour issues.

But he says his questions have not been answered.

Among his long list of complaints about how the outer harbour development has been handled are that taxpayers have been burdened with paying for the upkeep of Haven Bridge and land including the Gorleston West Bank - previously port liabilities; that taxpayers are guaranteeing the port’s private pensions; that the outer harbour was not built as per plans and that the river port is not being maintained.

Mr Cooper says there is much more that the public needs to know, but due to his age and medical complaints he needs somebody else to take over his efforts.

“People say ‘keep it up, John, you’re doing a great job,’ and I say ‘why don’t you get involved?’

“The port means a hell of a lot to me and when I see how rundown it is and the promises of what we were going to have that have not been kept it seems our councillors have not done anything.”

He said there are 30-year embargoes on port authority minutes and documents and that MPs, county and borough councillors have been reluctant to help.

He added: “The final straw for me was when a councillor who I believed was there for the people, turned out like the rest, party first, self-preservation next, and somewhere last, the electorate.”

Mr Cooper now plans to turn his attentions to painting and writing a book on his life in and around Yarmouth port.

From 1971 to 1977 he had worked as church missionary society marketing manager with CSS Bookshops Lagos; from late 1977 to 1984 he was with the Gorleston Lifeboat and from 1986 to 1997 he was a port welfare officer.