Gallery: Wisbech Port brings in the masses
IT is hidden away in a quiet corner of Wisbech, yet brings masses of tourism and trade to Fenland each year. Wisbech Port – Cambridgeshire s only port – dates back to the Roman times. It thrives with commercial shipping, privately-moored yachts and regula
IT is hidden away in a quiet corner of Wisbech, yet brings masses of tourism and trade to Fenland each year.
Wisbech Port - Cambridgeshire's only port - dates back to the Roman times. It thrives with commercial shipping, privately-moored yachts and regular visits by boat clubs.
But, about 20 years ago, a downturn in commercial trade saw a reduction in port-related jobs and a decline in appearance.
Today, however, confidence is restored and the tide has once again turned, as TOM JACKSON discovered when he spent a morning with harbour master and port manager Peter Harvey.
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AT its lowest point ten years ago only 38 vessels came into Wisbech but today the port is attracting up to 500 ships a year. That, says Mr Harvey, is an indication of the progress the port has made.
A feasibility study carried out in the 1990s gave way to an action plan that is shaping the port's economic growth.
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"The study proved it was a good idea to diversify into leisure," he said. "Our position offers good access to and from European destinations so much that every year we get regular visits by yacht clubs, as well as hundreds of people coming to Wisbech via the harbour.
"The narrow boat fraternity also like coming here, particularly those who like crossing the Wash."
Permanent berths in Wisbech harbour earn £110,000 a year, with a further £12,000 made from visitor berths. So popular has the port become that a recent article in Yachting Monthly magazine described Wisbech as having "the finest moorings between the Humber and Lowestoft".
Commercially, the harbour has also seen great strides forward, says Mr Harvey, who takes pride in the first consignment for export - 2,000 tonnes of scrap metal which left the port for Spain in August 2006 - and now have another 12 ships booked as a result.
"It means another £24,000 per year and more jobs," he says, keen to emphasise that this is now a commercial operation that deals with timber, scrap, bricks and steel and just happens to be owned by a local authority.
Trade and tourism figure heavily in Mr Harvey's daily work load - which he shares with a team of 13 - but there are other statutory duties to carry out.
"It is our responsibility to make the river safe, from Bevis Hall at Guyhirn to 15 miles out in The Wash if you want to bring your ship here," he says. "We use some of the best 'toys' in Fenland, in the form of our surveyor boat, pilot boat and rig craft, to do it."
After our introduction to the port and how it works, we were taken on-board the Port's survey boat - Nene Surveyor - and headed towards the Cross Keys swing bridge at Sutton Bridge before turning back.
And we could not let the trip pass without getting behind the wheel - with myself and Daniel Finch, a Year 10 student at the Neale-Wade Community College in March, making the most of the chance.
Our trip also coincided with the visit of the training yacht Duet, launched almost 100 years ago. On board were a group of young people from Coventry who sailed from Ipswich to Wisbech.
Duet remained moored in Wisbech Harbour until yesterday (Thursday), when a crew of four girls from Bedfordshire started their voyage. They were seen off by Olympic swimmer Karen Pickering and will be featured in an Anglia TV documentary, due to be broadcast in September.
With the £50 million Nene Waterfront Regeneration well under way - which included the yacht harbour, boat hoist and slipway - the future is looking extremely healthy.
And with the newer, state of the art cargo ships now a regular feature of the port's activity, the Cabinet member responsible, Councillor Mac Cotterell, is delighted at its continued success.
"The fact that ship owners and importers are moving goods to Wisbech on newer vessels is a welcome indication that they have a long term commitment to the port of Wisbech," he says. "That is very encouraging.