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Port IS good for town

PUBLISHED: 18:00 19 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:41 03 July 2010

We can deliver - that is the message from outer harbour bosses who have rounded on critics for knocking the facility before it has started.

Work is almost complete on the new harbour, with hopes high that the first container ships will dock within a few weeks.

We can deliver - that is the message from outer harbour bosses who have rounded on critics for knocking the facility before it has started.

Work is almost complete on the new harbour, with hopes high that the first container ships will dock within a few weeks.

But critics have feared the harbour will not create the estimated 1000 jobs and bring in 120,000 visitors to the town because no ferry operator had come forward to run services from the port.

There is also simmering anger that the privately run port will not yield the spin offs for the town and that it was kick-started with around £18m of public cash.

Relations were also soured earlier this year when the port sacked 11 dock workers as part of a switch to casual labour - fuelling concerns that instead of creating a port for the community, there was a risk of creating a town within a town.

And while borough council land worth £1.5m has been provided to help set it up, other issues such as creating a viewing platform and doing up Gorleston Pier remain unresolved.

But Eddie Freeman, Eastport UK chief executive, insisted this week the port would bring benefits to the town.

Now the focus is on the container port operation, where goods arriving at major destinations such as Antwerp can be quickly transferred to ships and brought in to the UK at Yarmouth. And Mr Freeman said Eastport UK still had an open mind on whether a ferry operation could be part of the new facility.

“Hopefully by the middle of next month, we should be seeing this as a port that's available to do some business.

“There's quite a range of industries we are interested in. The renewables market is changing all the time, that's driven as much by technology as politics. With offshore we have got a large market off our coast that needs to be serviced. We are very well positioned to exploit that. Our ambitions are quite wide-reaching.

“All ports have got to be flexible,” he added. “We are in a recession. Nobody saw it coming particularly and I don't think anybody is very clear when it is going to end. Certainly the global container market is down. The Ro-Ro market is significantly down.

“We are not thinking about next week, we are thinking long-term. As far as the Ro-Ro market is concerned we are keeping a watching brief. Ro-pax is an option within Ro-Ro that we are more than happy to exploit if we are able to. We do not rule anything out.

“I am not going to get into a debate about Ro-Ro, I didn't make the promises. There was never a promise. We have said ourselves quite clearly that if we can get somebody that wants to start a Roll-on, Roll-off out of Great Yarmouth and came knocking on our door, we can deliver.

“To get this level of investment going on with this level of ambition at this time in the recession has got to be good news,” Mr Freeman said. “There seems to be no recognition of the fact that we are in a recession and that has its effects.

“The outer harbour isn't the great white hope. Great Yarmouth has been very active in doing all kinds of projects dealing with regeneration. We are just one of these.”

“There was a lot of prejudice to overcome in the ports industry and to some extent locally about what we were doing. But it was not based on any fact. I think it's unfair given the fact that we are not open yet. How people can talk about it being a white elephant when it's not open, is an absolute contradiction in terms.

“We can't stop people having their views, and we don't want to, we live in a democracy. There will always be issues people don't agree with for whatever reason, but we just have to get the right message across.

George Bennett, head of development at Eeda, and a member of the First East board, said: “We have got a facility that's not quite finished yet,” he said. “The paint isn't even dry, but there is a bit of a British psyche to knock something before it has started.”

Mr Bennett said developments such as the recently announced Sauls Whart would help regenerate the town with developments similar in scale and ambition to Norwich's Riverside the Ipswich wharf front.

“We have got an opportunity to relocate a number of port businesses in South Denes,” Mr Bennett added. “We have got 8km or river frontage. There's quite a number of opportunities there to really reshape the town with a mixture of commercial and residential development.”

Peter Hardy, executive director for environment and economy at Great Yarmouth borough council, said the port's owners had spotted commercial opportunities previously not thought of and people should not get too hung up on the ferry issue.

“When International Port Holdings came in and said they reckoned they could get into the container business, that was a bonus,” Mr Hardy said. “That was certainly an option that nobody had thought of. There are as many jobs coming out of that as there may have been from a ferry service.”

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