Anger as plan to allow oil transfers off Southwold is given go-ahead

Campaigners were angered last night after Parliament approved a plan to permit the transfer of millions of barrels of oil between ships off the East Anglian coast.

A committee of MPs with powers to pass laws voted to make an area of Sole Bay the only offshore zone within UK territorial waters where tankers can exchange oil.

Immediately after the plan was approved, campaigners said the move risked not only the environment, but also Waveney's �250m tourism industry.

They also accused the Conservative MPs for Waveney, Peter Aldous, and Suffolk Coastal, Therese Coffey, of letting constituents down in failing to stop the measure; a charge denied by the MPs. Transport minister Mike Penning hit back by saying critics of the plan were 'scaremongering' and that officials had considered the decision carefully and come to the right decision.

Currently ship-to-ship transfers can take place anywhere off the coast around the UK. The previous government had wanted to see them limited to harbour authority waters.

But as the Labour administration left power, that change was blocked by Conservative MPs, including Ms Coffey and Mr Aldous.

The alternative proposal brought forward by the new coalition administration, and passed last night, will see a transfer zone created 12 miles off Southwold with a 1.5 mile radius. The policy will be reviewed in five years' time.

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John Perkins, secretary of the Southwold and Reydon Society, said: 'I remain clearly of the viewpoint that oil and tourism simply don't mix and nothing I heard in the committee hearing said by the minister changed my mind,' he told the EDP.

Mr Perkins argued that if Mr Aldous and Ms Coffey had not opposed the original proposals in which transfers were to take place in harbours, then Southwold would not now be stuck with the only UK transfer zone.

Former Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, who is planning to stand again at the next election, said: 'The disappointing thing is that neither of the MPs from Suffolk Coastal or Waveney were on the committee taking this decision. To her credit, Therese turned up to the hearing, but Peter didn't even do that. I believe this is an unacceptable risk to the coastal environment and the valuable tourism industry. People are very concerned about it.'

But Mr Penning told the committee that if the government did not introduce its plan the risk to the environment would be even greater, with tankers carrying out transfers at will and completely unregulated.

Under his proposal, he explained, transfers would take place under strict rules in a monitored area and with an inspection regime imposed by the government.

Speaking to the EDP after the meeting, Ms Coffey pointed out that the government had agreed to carry out an emergency planning exercise to help authorities prepare for any mishaps that might occur in the future.

She said: 'So we did get some concessions from the minister in terms of the exercise and it is important that local people feel that if there's a problem it will be addressed.'

Meanwhile Mr Aldous said he stood by the government's decision, adding that as he had already consulted the minister and conveyed his view it was not necessary for him to attend yesterday's hearing.

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