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Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010
The Port of Felixstowe is getting a 300m extension
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

Felixstowe South port extension
Felixstowe South in 2010 - where the old jetty used to be

The Port of Felixstowe is close to completing an extension to the quayside which is costing around £300m.

The original harbour basin has been filled in and the edge of the quay is moving out into Harwich Harbour.

It's scheduled to open in 2010, but due to the recession there's not quite been the urgency to finish the job quickly.

"We're seeing more and more of the big container ships on the main trade routes," said Paul Davey from Hutchison Ports/Port of Felixstowe.

"It's important that we in Felixstowe accommodate these ships or otherwise they'll go somewhere else.

"It's staying ahead of the game and keeping UK industry competitive and providing a means to market for UK exports.

"And it's a way for importers to get their goods into the UK in the cheapest and most efficient way."

With that in mind, one of the biggest construction projects in Suffolk is underway involving around 500 workers.

In a nutshell, it involves building a wall in the water and then filling in behind it with sand. A concrete quay is built on top with drainage, rails and the container cranes.

The 'wall' is built by putting 277 interlocking vertical steel tubes into the sea bed. Each one weighs 50 tonnes, is 2.6m in diameter and is 30-40m high depending on the depth of the sea bed.

It'll form Phase I of the new quayside which will be 730m long.

David Alefs of Costain
David Alefs with a view over the Felixstowe South development

'Small boys and big toys'

The man overseeing construction is David Alefs, the project director for civil engineering firm Costain.

He's in charge of a workforce of around 500 people and insists he was never into Lego or Meccano as a child:

"It was football! But having said that I was good at maths at school, did a degree in civil engineering and went on from there.

"My wife says it's small boys and big toys and it's what we like doing. Putting this all together gives a great sense of satisfaction."

The technology used is similar to that you'd find in a car's sat nav.

"The way we set these things out now is using the GPS (global positioning systems) tied-in with electronic theodolites and things generally go where they're supposed to go," said David.

"There's less room for error. None of the piles are even a few inches out.

"The biggest concern we had was an outcrop of limestone rock about 10m down from the sea bed.

Emma Maersk at Felixstowe
The world's largest container ship, the Emma Maersk, at Felixstowe

"We initially dug a trench along the line of the wall and got rid of any stray rock. Having removed the hard rock we put the piles into the chalk, which is of variable consistency, and once they're fixed into position they stay there.

"It's mainly surface work but we do have to use divers to check that the natural silting process hasn't covered the hard bottom.

"We've also got divers going down to fix cathodic protection onto the piles which stops them rusting away.

"Undoubtedly just watching the containers coming in, there's no doubt that the economy is on the up.

"Yes, people don't want to change what's there. There's a constant balance between keeping what's good about the country and giving us the modern infrastructure, so that we can all have the standard of living we're used to."

Future expansion at Felixstowe

Once complete the Suffolk port will be at the limits of how big it can grow.

"Felixstowe's boundaries are fixed on the land side," said Paul. "We can't go upriver because the river narrows and shallows and because of Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve, which the port helped create in the 1980s.

"We're re-engineering the original parts of the port, which can't accommodate modern ships.

Paul Davey of Hutchison Ports
Paul Davey on top of Tomline House - Hutchison Ports headquarters

"As we come out of recession and container volumes continue to increase there will be a very definite need for this facility.

"At the moment we employ over 2,500 people and there's probably something in excess of 20,000 people in Suffolk who earn their livelihood directly or indirectly from the port.

"What we do have is consent to develop at Bathside Bay near Harwich in the medium to longer term when demand dictates and if the economy continues to grow."

The cranes are due to arrive from China in spring 2010 and the new quay should be finished by Christmas 2010.

A new North Rail Terminal will be built and Hutchinson aims to move 20% of freight by train by 2020.

Phase II of the project involves re-aligning the quayside between Phase I and Landguard Fort, but there's no firm date fixed for that.

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