Great Yarmouth port at centre of High Court battle
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011
An international company, which has ploughed more than £60m into the port of Great Yarmouth over the past six years - including building the new outer harbour - has failed in a High Court bid to take over as its official harbour authority.
The Great Yarmouth Port Company, a subsidiary of a group which operates harbours around the world, from Argentina to Australia, was granted a 99-year lease of the ancient port in 2007.
Since then, the company has put more than US$100m into improving the port’s business and infrastructure - including building the new outer harbour - and, as a result, there was a 50pc increase in the port’s revenues between 2007 and 2010.
However, control of the port remains split, with the company’s landlord - the Great Yarmouth Port Authority - still setting annual tariffs for using its facilities, in consultation with the company, and employing harbour pilots.
The company in 2010 applied to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) - the government agency responsible for overseeing the nation’s ports - to take over the authority statutory functions and to itself become the port’s official harbour authority.
It claimed that the complexity of the current arrangements were hindering the port’s growth and leading to customer confusion.
In a highly competitive environment, the company said the existing structure of the port’s management made Great Yarmouth more expensive than competing harbours.
The split roles were ‘economically disadvantageous’ and getting in the way of the smooth running of the port, it claimed.
However, the the company’s application for a harbour revision order brought fierce objections from the Great Yarmouth Port Users Association, which represents 20 of the main businesses operating in the port area.
The port users association expressed concerns over the company’s operation of the port and denied the existing management structure was causing any confusion.
Mr Justice Cranston told London’s High Court: “Their case was that the company’s revision order was unique in as much as it had already been gifted the assets of the authority and Great Yarmouth Borough Council, together with over £19m of public money, without any direct financial return.”
Following a public inquiry, the MMO refused the company’s application in December last year, saying it was not satisfied that the making of the revision order was desirable in the interests of the improvement, maintenance or management of the harbour in an efficient and economic manner.
In court, the company challenged that decision as ‘irrational’.
However, in dismissing the company’s complaints, Mr Justice Cranston said the MMO enjoyed a wide discretion and had correctly interpreted the law.
Making the order sought by the company ‘was definitely not the only rational course open to the MMO and it could certainly not be said that the order would inevitably result in operational and business improvements in the harbour,’ the judge said.
The company’s arguments that the MMO had failed to take into account relevant considerations were rejected and the judge described as ‘hopeless’ complaints that the procedure followed was unfair and that the company had been denied ‘a fair crack of the whip’.