Outer harbour under scrutiny again

The multi-million pound outer harbour is to be put under the spotlight for the first time since new chief executive Jamie Frater took the helm.

But leading campaigner John Cooper claims he is being gagged from asking probing questions by county council bosses.

EastPort chiefs were first quizzed over the �80m scheme in February 2011, and conceded they needed to do more work to persuade residents of the harbour's merits.

They resolved to revisit issues raised, with a meeting now set for September 18 at County Hall.

But Mr Cooper was 'livid' when he discovered he was banned from asking about the deals made in 2007, and the original promises.

Chris Walton, the county's head of democratic services, told Mr Cooper he may not speak for longer than five minutes, and the meeting will focus solely on 'the developments in EastPort in the last 18 months and to look forward to the key issues for the future'.

In an email, Mr Walton added: 'The meeting will not revisit the issues addressed in February 2011.'

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Mr Cooper said: 'I am absolutely livid. I am going to email all the county councillors asking them why they don't want the truth to come out.'

He says he still firmly believes the privatisation of the port in May 2007 was 'not in the interest of the ratepayers'.

Among his issues with the development are the lack of a roll-on roll-off ferry service which had been promised, that 11 dock workers were sacked in 2009, and the lack of jobs created.

'I had to fight to get this scrutiny,' said Mr Cooper. 'The ratepayers of this borough want to know why after five and a half years there is no sign of improvement.'

Mr Frater replaced Eddie Freeman as chief executive of EastPort in May, and has already vowed to work on improving lines of communication.

Eliza O'Toole, vice chairman of EastPort, attended the meeting in February 2011 and will be at next month's too.

She said: 'Responses to the questions raised of us by Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committee under the leadership of Cllr George Nobbs will be given direct to the chairman of the cabinet and it would be both discourteous and inappropriate to discuss these issues prior to the cabinet's due process.'

While EastPort chiefs have yet to be told the exact nature of questions, they have already released details of work in the last 18 months.

A wide ranging statement notes company A2Sea is utilising the outer harbour as the installation base for 88 wind turbines for the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm, and has completed the project safely and successfully. Alongside this, the outer harbour has provided vessel support for Greater Gabbard, Thanet and Lincs offshore wind farms.

The statement continues: 'In October 2011, an MOU was signed with East Anglia Offshore Wind Limited, the developers of the large Round 3 site off the coast of Norfolk and discussions continue with both EAOW and several blue chip companies involved in offshore wind.

'With the outer harbour being able to accommodate much larger vessels than the river, principals such as Bibby, SubSea 7, DOF, Saipem, Technip and Smit Marine are all utilising the facility, and this activity has also resulted in a positive knock on activity of increased river berthing requirements by vessels supporting those in the outer harbour.

'The synergy between the outer harbour and the river point is a great unique selling point for the port as a whole which we actively encourage.'

Details have also been released on work to benefit the wider business community, changes to the port estate and further investment.

Further details on the scrutiny meeting will be printed in the Mercury in coming weeks.

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