Concerns raised about the Great Yarmouth outer harbour

Bosses of Great Yarmouth's outer harbour yesterday defended their role in the development of the �80m scheme – but conceded they needed to do more to work with the people of the town to persuade them of its merits.

Members of Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committee held a special session to look at the development of the harbour, which was kick-started by �18m of public funds, and whether the scheme had met its original objectives.

The harbour, which has been operating since last year, has seen several shifts in emphasis from original plans for a ferry service, to a container port, and more recently a port specialising in servicing the offshore energy industry.

The packed session also heard concerns from Gorleston-based campaigner John Cooper, who raised a series of points about whether the county council and Yarmouth Borough Council had given away public assets including land too cheaply to port bosses Eastport UK and its parent company International Port Holdings (IPH).

The 74-year-old former port welfare officer said the scheme had proved a moveable feast and failed to deliver on promises to create hundreds of jobs in the town.

He said there were problems with the design of the port, which meant that many vessels could not dock there because of too much sea swell, and he questioned why the county council had taken over the running of the Haven Bridge from the port authority at an extra cost of �1.5m.

'I am a supporter of the outer harbour, but our port doesn't seem to have a road map at all,' Mr Cooper said.

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'What we need is a proper map, and stick to it.'

Eliza O'Toole, vice-chairman of IPH, said the port's development was driven by the commercial needs of customers, although she conceded the firm needed to be better at communicating with the public and stakeholders about what it does.

'In our first 12 months we have focused very much first of all on growing the trade of the river port,' she said.

'In addition we very much focused on the construction of the outer harbour.

'Unfortunately we didn't focus well enough on communications with stakeholders.

'You have my word, we will undertake better communications going forward.'

But she stressed that in the wake of the global financial recession, the port had to react to changing times, and this included changing the port fenders to take into account that smaller ships than the original container vessels would now be using the port.

'Prescribing a rigid road map is going to be the death knell of any company. Since the global financial crisis, lots of companies have changed their plans to market conditions. If they hadn't done that, there would be more business failures. What we do is react to market; it's the customer's choice. We can encourage them with the best facilities and support services we can. However, we can't make them come to us.'

Last night also saw the first meeting of a new community and marine liaison committee at Great Yarmouth town hall, where businesses and public bodies linked to the port would be able to discuss ongoing issues.

Former Yarmouth MP Tony Wright, who lobbied the previous government for the scheme, said his area of concern was the lack of communication with the public over the plans, and he said IPH could do more to allay people's fears over issues such as the closure of the Gorleston Pier car park, and the West quay. Eastport UK's decision to sack 11 dock workers in 2009 also got relations with the town off to a poor start, he said.

'There were issues that needed to be addressed,' Mr Wright said. 'Again it comes down to lack of communication and openness. The owners do need to talk to the community.

'They are small issues, but something that's considerably important to the community.'

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