Transport Minister Derek Twigg said he was “minded to approve” the container port at Shellhaven, a former Shell oil refinery near Canvey Island, as well as the adjacent commercial and logistics centre on the same site.

With a proposed quayside 2.3 km long, and a 700-acre commercial centre, the port would be the largest of all the new container ports in the country as well as containing facilities for ro-ro and bulk traffic. It is expected to be able to handle 3.5 million 20foot containers and cost approximately £700 million.

However, Mr Twigg said it was important that any new development of that scale be sustainable in a manner consistent with Government policy.

“We need to be sure, in particular, that the impacts of the full development on the area’s highway network can be accommodated and that any measures proposed to mitigate those impacts are not only adequate but also likely to be carried out. At this stage we are not yet satisfied we can be reasonably certain of that happening.”

Developers P&O said they were delighted with the result and confident that the road issues would be resolved.

Both the government and industry have said there is a need for additional container port capacity in the UK and that insufficient capacity led to congestion at ports in the last quarter of 2004.

Port of London Authority chief executive Richard Everitt said: “The London Gateway scheme will be a major contribution to meeting the requirement for increased container capacity in the UK. It will also see the regeneration of a brownfield former industrial site. It ensures this existing deep-water facility on the Thames is not lost to port use.”

The RSPB said the conditional go-ahead for the port meant that the Government should reject applications for another container port at Bathside Bay, near Harwich.

The RSPB had initially opposed the Shellhaven scheme as it is likely to damage part of Mucking Flats, an important area of mudflat for wintering waders and wildfowl in the Thames estuary. However, they are satisfied that the damage will be offset by the creation of new mudflats, saltmarsh and grazing marsh in south Essex and north Kent.

The group has now turned its attention to Bathside Bay instead, saying the London port would create enough additional capacity to render the development unnecessary.

By David Hopkins.

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