Harbour chief is staying positive

STEPHEN PULLINGER Bounding enthusiastically down the stairs of the port authority building on Yarmouth's quayside, Eddie Freeman is clearly not weighed down by a rival's jibe that his £80m outer harbour vision could yet become a “dead duck”.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

Bounding enthusiastically down the stairs of the port authority building on Yarmouth's quayside, Eddie Freeman is clearly not weighed down by a rival's jibe that his £80m outer harbour vision could yet become a “dead duck”.

The comment by Stena Line director Pim de Lange at the unveiling of two refurbished super-ferries in Harwich perhaps calculatedly took the gloss off the triumphant arrival in Yarmouth of the first barge carrying granite rocks for the new harbour's breakwaters.

However, Mr Freeman, into his second month as chief executive of Great Yarmouth Port Company, is clearly unfazed by the prospect of steering through the, at times, choppy waters of a highly competitive industry.

The youthful 60-year-old, speaking with the confidence of someone who can boast of having built up the Humber Sea Terminal at Killingholme from a greenfield site to the most successful Ro Ro ferry port on the East coast apart from Dover, said: “We contended with negative publicity then, and it is only to be expected.

“One of our first tasks is to counter the bad press, for example the criticism surrounding the harbour's public funding, by raising awareness across the industry of where the port is going.”

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The first major opportunity to expound their vision will come as early as next month when about 300 people, including regional stakeholders and notables, will be invited to a marquee celebration at the harbour's South Dene site to mark the first rocks being dropped on the seabed.

“It will be an opportunity for us to explain what we are doing, where we are and what's happening. It will include a presentation by the contractors from Van Oord and Edmund Nuttall,” he said.

Mr Freeman, who has worked as far afield as South Africa during a lifetime in the industry, is quietly confident for the future - not least because of the port's location.

Whereas Mr de Lange described the scheme as “in the wrong place with poor road connections”, Mr Freeman sees as trump cards the shortest North Sea crossing and a quick passage in and out of the sea-facing harbour.

Throughout the fluctuating struggle to bring the outer harbour off the drawing board, the establishment of a ferry service to the continent has widely been seen as the holy grail.

However, while remaining optimistic of establishing a ferry service - his confidence backed up by a recent survey showing a 2pc growth in passengers through East coast ports - Mr Freeman insists the outer harbour can be a success even without a ferry partner.

He said the 12 to 14 months it would take to build the harbour was a sufficient time-frame to still have a ferry in place at the opening, but he would not speculate on the type of service.

“At this stage it remains wide open and it is important not to shut out any ideas. The route could be to anywhere in Holland and the service could be for passengers, freight or a combination of the two,” he said.

Mr Freeman is equally bullish about the harbour's planned container terminal, saying there could be no better partner than leading port group PSA International to work with them.

He said Yarmouth could benefit from an increasing global trend for long haul super ships to reduce their ports of call for reasons of economy - that increased the trade for container feeder ships that could use smaller harbours.

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