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New leader Mark Bee keeps 'open mind' on tankers

PUBLISHED: 13:16 06 May 2011 | UPDATED: 13:16 06 May 2011

New leader of Suffolk County Council, Mark Bee pictured here on the waterfront in Ipswich

New leader of Suffolk County Council, Mark Bee pictured here on the waterfront in Ipswich

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SUFFOLK county council's leader-in-waiting says he is keeping an "open mind" over the controversial ship-to-ship transfers that have drawn large numbers of oil tankers to the Waveney coast.

Newly-elected Tory leader Mark Bee claimed he would have little influence over the final outcome of a consultation that could see a stretch of our coastline made the UK’s only offshore area for the transfers.

But one campaigner said the outgoing Waveney District Council leader was being “stunningly naïve” and criticised the authority for not sanctioning an assessment of potential oil-spill risks.

Shipping minister Mike Penning sought views on the transfers amid fears that restricting them to an area off Sole Bay would put the environment at risk – and damage the district’s multi-million pound seaside tourism industry.

Mr Bee said he would listen to concerns from residents, but was confident all off-shore operations would be strictly controlled.

“I think there are two sides to the debate,” he said. “I am quite open-minded about the whole thing.

“We want to hear people’s views and concerns. I think we have to work through the issues.

“We have a very attractive coastline and have to balance that with the fact that the tanker operators have a very high safety record.

“The council hasn’t got any sway over the decision. But Waveney is responsible for going out to do any health-and-safety inspections.”

The previous government had proposed an outright ban on ship-to-ship transfers in UK waters as of last December, but the Department for Transport is considering calls to restrict them to the Suffolk coast.

Mr Penning has delayed a final decision to allow him to consider all resposes to the public consulation.

John Perkins, secretary of Southwold and Reydon Society, was unconvinced by Mr Bee’s confidence, especially in light of a close call between an oil tanker and a fishing boat off the Lowestoft coast earlier this year.

“I think Mark Bee is being stunningly naïve,” said Mr Perkins.

“Tim Passmore of Choose Suffolk has himself expressed quite strong concerns. When there was a near miss, he was very quick to seek assurances.

“Mark Bee should also be aware that the Chamber of Trade are very concerned about tourism.

“On safety, we will have to agree to differ. Unlike Scotland and Dorset our local authority has never commissioned a risk assessment.

“It seems extremely strange, given that this coast could very well be bearing the brunt of the country’s entire oil transfers. We will remain in the background trying to influence the decision of the minister.”

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