Southwold pier boss voices fears over tanker transfers

THE owner of Southwold Pier has voiced fears that oil transfers between tankers off the north Suffolk coast could threaten his business and damage tourism.

Stephen and Antonia Bournes have spent millions of pounds turning the 623-foot pier into one of the county's leading tourist attractions.

But they fear the government's plans to restrict ship-to-ship oil transfers in UK waters to Sole Bay from April could hit tourism and scupper their plans for a �5m hotel development.

'We are very much against it,' said Mr Bournes. 'It's like playing with matches in a room doused with petrol. Suffolk is a green county and tourism is extremely important – and to put that in jeopardy makes no sense.

'Why is it not going to be allowed anywhere else in the country? It is going to be a car park for fuel.'

Many in the town were angered when shipping minister Mike Penning announced in December that oil transfers between ships moored in UK waters would only be allowed off the north Suffolk coast – especially as the previous government had moved to ban the controversial practice.

The new legislation is due to come into effect in April, but after a public outcry and pressure from Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey – who signed an Early Day Motion which led to the ban being overturned – the government has now announced it will consult the public over the move.

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Oil tankers have become a regular feature on the horizon at Southwold and there are fears the numbers will rise when Sole Bay becomes the only transfer area.

Local campaigners – including the Southwold and Reydon Society and the chamber of trade – have voiced fears about the threat of an oil spillage and the impact on tourism in the area.

Mr Bournes said that, if the oil transfers went ahead, it could harm his proposed �5m hotel development. The plans are on hold for the moment, but the couple spent �150,000 on refurbishments over the winter.

'We have invested a considerable amount of money into the pier to make it one of the best in the UK and we hope to invest another �5m for potential development, and that is in jeopardy.

'If there is a threat of an oil slick, however big or small, it could close me down. We can't do anything with this threat hanging over us.

'We are not happy about this and we need to make our voices heard. We are asking people to stand up and shout about it.'

The area off Sole Bay is used by small tankers bringing oil from Russia to transfer to larger vessels unable to negotiate the Baltic Sea.

It was announced last month that specialist equipment in the event of a 'worst-case scenario' oil spill would be moved from Cambridgeshire to storage at Lowestoft.