Roger Webb, managing director of Southampton cargo handling, today lamented the decision and predicted stormy times ahead for Southampton docks...

THESE are dark times for Southampton and perhaps the most important element in the local economy, the port, as the government turns its back on what was perhaps the most important local project of recent times.

Dibden Terminal, with the world-class containership berths, was set to be a major cornerstone not only for the Southampton and regional economy but also for Great Britain as a whole.

This was not going to be a scheme just to improve facilities here in Southampton but was designed to be of national importance as capacity for the rapidly expanding containership trade runs out in the UK.

There were always going to be strong arguments between Associated British Ports, owners and operators of Southampton docks, who wanted to develop the land and the pressure groups of residents and environmentalist battling against the development.

As a company based in the docks and that earns its living totally from shipping and servicing the many vessels that call at Southampton we obviously backed the proposals and naturally we are now deeply disappointed at the outcome of the planning inquiry.

This is without doubt a loss opportunity which Southampton will have to live with the consequences far into the future.

As nearby ports, both in this country and on the mainland of Europe, are allowed to expand Southampton will only be able to sit and watch as vessels sail passt the docks and head for rival gateways. Even some of our present visitors may move away.

The plain simple truth is that today's vast shipping empires will always take their trade to those places that can meet their demands of service, speed and convenience.

There is now the distinct danger that Southampton, as an import and export hub, will be gradually eroded and it will fall down the league table of ports.

As a result of this decision I firmly believe the port of Southampton will now struggle to maintain its role in the ever changing world of international trade.

The ripple effect of this announcement will spread out and hit not only commercial and business organisations but also the many thousands of families in the area who rely on the continued success of the docks for their livelihood.

No doubt those who so loudly campaigned against the Dibden development are today celebrating but they should, although I suspect it will not be the case, examine and realise what exactly they have done.

The environment of course is important and the concerns of people living by any large development should be listened to but sometimes the overwhelming demands of the country should override these worries.

I am convinced this was such a case.

Now only time will tell if we have paid to big a price for refusing the development of Dibden Bay.