Southampton'S busy container terminal could be transformed under a vital £150m port expansion plan bringing up to 200 jobs.
Six new giant quayside cranes would rise above the dockscape as the next generation of supersized container ships are able to berth alongside an upgraded 500m-long quay wall.
As a result of legal challenges and objections, the scheme to retain the container terminal’s competitiveness, safeguarding 800 direct and 1,200 indirect jobs, has been delayed.
Dock owners Associated British Ports are now hoping for a speedy decision by the Marine Management Organisation, a Government agency, which needs to give the go-ahead for dredging and upgrade works to begin.
The MMO is considering responses to a public consultation which ended last week.
The Daily Echo can reveal these include a letter from lawyers acting for rival Hutchinson Ports, owners of Felixstowe, which forced a reassessment of the scheme when it launched a judicial review of an earlier consent 12 months ago on environmental grounds.
Hampshire MPs have joined to lobby the Government for a quick resolution to the hold-ups.
ABP wants to combine the existing berths 201 and 202 as an increase in the length of container ships has meant the current deep-sea berths, 204 to 207, can no longer handle four large vessels at once.
City MP John Denham, who said work had to begin this September to avoid heavy delays, had accused the MMO of “bureaucratic paralysis” and the Department of the environment, Food and Rural Affairs of “ineffectual complacency”.
Business secretary Vince Cable said the project represented “exactly the sort of private sector infrastructure investment that the country needs”.
And shipping minister Mike Penning recently gave the Government’s strongest backing yet for the scheme, accusing the MMO of a “cock-up” and warning Hutchinson to back off.
An MMO spokeswoman said it was still considering responses and was unable to say if any objections have been lodged.
Opponents could still lodge another request for a judicial review of the process, creating fatal delays for Southampton. Hutchinson declined to comment.
The major works must be carried out between September and March to avoid disturbing migratory Atlantic salmon.
The works are part of a port masterplan to boost box handling capacity from two million to 2.7 million (TEUs or 20ft equivalent units) by 2020.