Great Yarmouth outer harbour ‘still on course’

Port bosses and town leaders have sprung to the defence of Great Yarmouth's outer harbour in the face of stinging criticism about its performance and prospects.

In the past two weeks, a ship's captain abandoned an attempt to dock in rough weather, claiming the harbour was 'completely exposed to an easterly wind', and port bosses were accused of a PR disaster by their last-minute decision to turn away a power station parts shipment from freight firm Panalpina that would have seen the harbour's �7m container cranes used for the first time.

Meanwhile, letters to the the Yarmouth Mercury on Friday branded the harbour a waste of �18m of public investment and a jobs let-down, while negative headlines about the Panalpina saga even reached the international shipping journal Lloyd's List.

Speaking out to counter the critics after the landmark opening of Gleadell's �5m grain terminal at the harbour, EastPort CEO Eddie Freeman refuted speculation about any design fault, downplayed 'Panalpina-Gate' and insisted the hard facts already pointed to the harbour being successful.

In a message of reassurance to Norfolk people, he said: 'This project will end up as a �100m project, which is a great return on �18m of public investment.

'We are here for the long haul and the port represents a great deal for the county for the next 150 years.'

He said since the harbour opened in January, it had already received 135 vessels, only about six of which would have been small enough to go in the river port.

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And he predicted by this time next year the outer harbour would have attracted an extra 500,000 tonnes of new cargo - all achieved in the face of the greatest slump in the maritime industry since the Great Depression.

He said it was this world-wide downturn that was to blame for the port's PSA container terminal so far failing to attract business and it was also the reason he had had to shelve plans for a roll-on roll-off ferry, seen as a key plank of the harbour in its original business plan.

'The market will recover and a ferry linking Norfolk to the continent remains a definite possibility in the future,' he said.

Mr Freeman said he was 'massively upbeat' that within three years the harbour would be at the very heart of the rapidly expanding offshore wind industry, servicing firms involved in the Crown Estate's third round of windfarm construction.

He was already receiving 'a great number of inquiries' from companies in the sector.

Backing Mr Freeman, Graham Plant, a prominent borough councillor and Norfolk County Council's new cabinet member for travel and transport, said: 'Both authorities regard the harbour as the new gateway to Europe and a massive key to development growth.'

The deep-water harbour put the whole sub-region in pole position to exploit not only the offshore wind industry, but also the potentially massive opportunities that would arise from decommissioning gas rigs.

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said in addition to A11 dualling and a third river crossing for Yarmouth, the outer harbour was 'the padlock key to unlock economic growth in the region'.

In terms of attracting firms in the wind energy sector, the harbour was vital. 'If you don't have a port, you don't have an offer,' he said.

Benedict Young, editor of industry journal Cargo Systems, is also optimistic about the outer harbour's capability to 'carve out its own niche'.

He said: 'The world has changed since they set about creating it as a container port and they now have a great opportunity in the wind energy sector.'

But he said when the economic situation improved Yarmouth could still fit in well with the box trade as a feeder port for places like Antwerp.