MILLIONS OF pounds investment in UK ports could be cancelled as a result of forthcoming European Union water legislation, port developers warned NCE this week.
Smaller UK ports could close altogether while new developments could be barred as a result of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), they said.
The WFD, which comes into force in the UK in December 2003, requires all open waters such as rivers and a 1km zone of coastal water around the UK to be set ecological targets by 2009.
These targets include maximum suspended solids and chemical concentrations, and minimum fish populations.
They must be met by 2015.
The legislation means that after 2009 developers with plans to build in or close to water will have to prove the benefits of building or extending a port, such as increased freight or local jobs, will outweigh the ecological damage caused to the water.
This will hit smaller port developers - who could be accused of providing limited benefits - if they wanted to expand, or even simply operate at ports such as Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, said Dr Stephen Hull from ABP Marine Environmental Research.
'I can certainly foresee closure of small ports. At least it could be very difficult to do further developments, ' he said.
'There is currently no pressure on Great Yarmouth to justify its existence, for example. However, under the WFD there could be, ' he added.
He added that he could envisage situations where new ports along unspoilt banks or coastlines would be barred.
Operators would be forced to focus development on existing larger ports that can more easily justify new extensions into 'mega-ports'. This could affect the planning approvals for new port developments at Bathside Bay in Felixstowe, Shellhaven on the Thames Gateway and Dibden Bay near Southampton.
Larger ports may also be affected because new environmental standards demanded by the WFD may restrict dredging operations or make them very expensive, Hull said.
Many ports have to dredge in order to ensure ships can pass easily into them. Dredging operations have increased as ships and ports are being built to larger designs.
Hull urged the Environment Agency to provide detailed guidance without delay so that port operators could prepare.
An Environment Agency spokesman said this week that a second round of consultation for the implementation of the WFD will start shortly, so port owners can discuss their fears.
British Port Association director David Whitehead added his weight to calls for action this week. 'When the directive comes into force there are going to be effects. One can only suspect it will make life more difficult and costly.'
INFOPLUS europa. eu. int/comm/environm ent/water