Key conclusions on Yarmouth’s Outer Harbour

Given the emotive nature of the outer harbour debate, forming a consensus over its merits is all but impossible. But here are some facts I have uncovered and some things I think could help.

n Joint venture versus privatisation

Critics of the harbour accuse its backers of abandoning plans for a joint venture between Great Yarmouth Port Authority and the private sector. In fact a decision was taken in 2000 to pursue a course known as a port operating concession, which grants a private investor the right to secure commercial returns from the assets, including the river port. A plan for a shorter 35-year arrangement was also dropped earlier in the process in favour of a longer 99-year deal because it was felt that it was the best way to secure investment.

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n Governance

Monitoring of the public sector's �18m investment is confusing. Given the strategic importance of the harbour it would seem a good idea if Norfolk County Council considers the development periodically at its cabinet meetings, with reports made public. A similar approach could be adopted by Great Yarmouth Borough Council. Given the European significance of the scheme, MEPs could also ensure that any EU monitoring of the project is brought to the attention of people in the region.

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n The white elephant question

Most people believe that the harbour is a white elephant.

But Eastport has secured a �5m storage deal with Gleadells, the rig Noble Julie Robertson has been brought in for a refit, and another wind turbine deal is imminent. Eastport UK posted a �1m pre-tax profit in its last accounts. Legal agreements mean that even if Eastport UK sells up, land must be retained for port use.

n Asset transfers

Additional assets including the upkeep of the Haven Bridge and Gorleston West Quay were transferred into public control 48 hours before a deal was signed in 2007 together with an extra �1.5m of funds to save the scheme from collapse. But details were kept under wraps as part of the confidentiality clauses signed between the parties.

n Eastport UK in the community

It's clear that Eastport UK's relations with its stakeholders can be strained. Privately, even supporters of the firm are critical of its perceived lack of regard for the community and what can be seen as an offhand approach.

The firm has set up a new community and maritime liaison committee. But it should make the minutes of its meetings available and give details of who its members are. The firm is not a charity, and nor should it be, but it needs help in looking at its wider community role and how it deals with the wider world, from the people of Yarmouth, to the users of the port, the councils involved and, yes, even the media.

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