Tourism and wind farms the key as historic ports face watershed

HISTORIC ports in Yorkshire are facing an increasing reliance on tourism and the development of a multi-billion pound offshore wind farm to counter the region’s dwindling fishing industry.

Senior port officials have admitted that both Whitby and Scarborough have witnessed the biggest upheaval for more than half a century in the past decade as they have had to look to ensuring the harbours remain viable.

A concerted campaign to preserve the fishing industry off the North Yorkshire coast is continuing but there is now a vital need to look towards both the tourism sector and a boom in wind farms to ensure the economy of the seaside towns can be sustained.

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Scarborough Borough Council’s Harbour Master and Ports Manager, Captain Martin Willis, is leaving his post after spending the past decade helping to oversee North Yorkshire’s harbours.

He said: “The ports are definitely in a transitional phase, and we are having to look at more diversification. There has been more change in the last six or seven years than there has been perhaps in the last 60 years.

“There is still a firm commitment to the fishing industry, but there have been well-publicised problems and it will never come back to what it was. Every effort is being made to protect the fishing industry as it is such an important part of the heritage of the towns.

“But there is a need to look to other areas such as tourism and the arrival of the wind farm industry to ensure the future of the ports.”

Thirty years ago, 130 trawlers operated out of Yorkshire coast ports but the number of boats has now shrunk to 12, with only eight remaining in Scarborough. The trawler crews have blamed European bureaucracy including restrictions on catches and the number of days boats can spend at sea.

But Mr Willis maintained that Whitby and Scarborough are better placed than many seaside towns around the country as they remain prime destinations for tourists.

And the ports have been identified as key locations to support the world’s largest off-shore wind farm which is due to be built nearly 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast at Dogger Bank to generate up to 10 per cent of the nation’s electricity.

It is hoped that thousands of jobs will be created as North Yorkshire’s coastal towns play a significant role in supporting the industry. The wind farm, which is expected to include about 2,600 giant turbines each up to 400ft tall, will cover more than 3,300 sq miles – equivalent to the size of North Yorkshire, England’s largest county.

Millions of pounds have also been spent on dramatically increasing the number of berths for leisure vessels in the two harbours. It has been estimated that between 500 and 600 leisure vessels visit Whitby alone every year with crews on board from across Europe and as far afield as America, Australia and New Zealand.

Whitby has seen a long-awaited redevelopment of its marina to provide vastly improved facilities, while Scarborough has had £2.8m invested to create 60 new pontoons. All the berths for private and pleasure craft are taken, and there is currently a waiting list.

One of the most important developments in recent years has been the introduction of a harbour board in Whitby, which met for the first time at the end of last year.

A former trawler captain himself, Captain Willis has been employed by Scarborough Borough Council since November 2001, first as the Deputy Harbour Master before becoming the Borough Harbour Master and Ports Manager in March 2009.

He has been appointed the Harbour Master at the port of Blyth on the North-East coast, which handles up to 2m tonnes of cargo a year. Captain Willis is due to leave North Yorkshire on April 21, and the Deputy Harbour Master, Captain Ian Vasey, will take temporary charge of the borough’s ports which also include Filey.