Thursday, November 8, 2012
CAMPAIGNERS are hoping years of unanswered questions over Great Yarmouth’s outer harbour will finally be answered after a government watchdog announced an inquiry into the controversial £80m project.
Locals who have remained sceptical about the scheme since 2007 - when the port was privatised with an £18m kick start funded by taxpayers – were jubilant this week when the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) announced that it would be launching the inquiry.
They hope the probing hearing will lift the lid on how public funds have been used to develop the port, which promised new jobs - that campaigners claim have not been delivered - and a continental ferry link, that bosses have ruled out for at least a decade.
A date for the inquiry has not yet been set but is expected to take place next spring and run for a week, depending on the number of people called upon to be quizzed and “the volume of evidence”.
The inquiry will scrutinise the Harbour Revision Order (HRO) that aims to transfer the outer harbour from the Great Yarmouth Port Authority into the hands of the private Great Yarmouth Port Company (GYPC).
John Cooper leads the Greater Yarmouth Independent Scrutiny Group, which has campaigned furiously against the order as they believe GYPC is “not fit” to take over the port authority’s duties, and said he was in “awe” that a inquiry was to be held.
“It has been four years since I stood on the South Esplanade and said to myself ‘what are they doing to the planned outer harbour that we are paying for?’ I never thought this day would come, so many closed doors, dead ends.
“I am totally in awe at the news of a full public inquiry, I really cannot take the news in yet,” he added.
“After many miles of emails and letters and continually knocking on doors we have at last the chance to air our grievances as to why we end up with a port unfit for purpose, at an inquiry.”
The retired port welfare officer from Gorleston hopes the investigation will reveal “why we lost five years of marine business by going after an inappropriate container idea instead of the planed ferry”. He also hoped it would “spell out how the present port company should operate the port” but added: “I don’t want heads to roll, I want success.”
Eliza O’Toole, vice chairman of GYPC, was delighted the MMO was progressing the order and “in the usual way” was planning to hold an inquiry, that her company would engage in.
She said: “The inquiry process will have no impact on the day to day operations of the port and core focus of growing trade and customer base in Great Yarmouth, in strong support of the region’s wider initiative to secure economic growth for the region.”
The MMO, which oversees marine planning, enforcement and fisheries management, is now writing to the Planning Inspectorate to arrange the inquiry.
A spokesman added: “We felt such a complex case would benefit from a full independent examination of all the evidence available.
“As soon as full details are available, we will publicise the date and venue, with any member of the public welcome to attend, and give evidence. The length of the inquiry depends on the number of people and the volume of evidence, but we anticipate the inquiry will last up to a week.
“The planning inspector would then consider all the evidence, and provide recommendations to the MMO which will inform our decision on the harbour order application.”