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Farmers unite to oppose port plan

FARMERS have joined forces to fight plans for a new port that could flood 1,000 acres of the north Kent shoreline between Grain and Higham.

They were taking their battle today to one of the biggest planning inquiries in the South East since the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was unveiled.

P&O and Shell want to redevelop the former Shell Haven oil refinery in Essex, opposite the Hoo Peninsula. The 1,500-acre site would become a world-class port and logistics and commercial centre.

It could create up to 16,500 new jobs as part of the Thames Gateway regeneration initiative, and succeed Thamesport in Grain as the closest deep-sea container terminal to London. It will also provide a roll-on roll-off facility for ships with stern/bow loading.

However, the National Farmers Union is fighting the plan, saying it could flood 1,000 acres of farmland on the Hoo Peninsula.

P&O has served compulsory purchase notices on farmers on Cliffe and Cooling Marshes.

The farmers claim they are only being paid agricultural land rates for their fields.

Ron Lamb and his business partner Michael Bates have a 1,100 acre grassland farm. It includes an Environmentally Sensitive Area and a Site of Special Scientific Interest - part of which would be destroyed if the area were inundated with seawater.

If the redevelopment plans go ahead under European wildlife law, P&O must compensate for the loss of mudflats by creating new bird habitats. They plan to knock down the sea defences - right next to the proposed site of the Cliffe International Airport.

Alistair Baillie, chief operating officer of P&O Ports said: "Our eventual investment of around £650 million demonstrates our commitment to and confidence in the wider regeneration of this region."

The inquiry is expected to be completed this summer.

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