Bid to save Great Yarmouth outer harbour

Great Yarmouth's multi-million- pound outer harbour scheme came within 48 hours of collapse until two councils agreed to inject an extra �1.5m of public funds and approve a controversial land swap.

Backed by �18m of public money, and with the support of British ministers and EU officials, the outer harbour was seen as the key to transforming the economic fortunes of the town and at the heart of its regeneration, while also providing Norfolk with a strategic link to the rest of Europe.

But the town is gripped by tensions about the project, with critics accusing the public bodies involved of handing too much away in the rush to see the scheme delivered and also failing to ensure that they had any proper oversight or stake in the venture.

Critics believe the scheme, which is barely a year old, is already in danger of becoming a white elephant, while its supporters believe that the negative atmosphere surrounding the project runs the real risk of damaging the harbour, and with it the economic chances of both Great Yarmouth and Norfolk.

In an exclusive investigation, the EDP has learned that a deal with private firm International Port Holdings (IPH), the parent company of Eastport UK, went right down to the wire with the firm making it clear they would walk away from the �40m project unless their demands were met.

Both Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council agreed to their demands in order to keep the project afloat just two days before the tie-up with IPH was officially announced in May 2007.

This week in a special report, the EDP will look at just how the outer harbour turned from a dream into a reality, the twists and turns since the deal was struck, and how its bosses see the scheme going on to enjoy a successful future in the years ahead. The role of the public sector will be examined and also the claims of critics who believe too much was given away without proper controls.

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Businesses in the town also give their view on what the project has meant for them, while leading opinion formers from Great Yarmouth and beyond will give their thoughts on the harbour scheme.