§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
asked the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he has taken to secure the future of the Port of Preston; and whether he will make a statement.
§ Mr. William Rodgers:
I announced on 27th September that I was prepared to provide a grant of up to £2 million under Section 7 of the Industry Act 1972 to Preston Borough Council to support a two-year test period of continued operation for the Port of Preston, to establish whether or not the port has real prospects of achieving a breakeven financial position within a reasonable time.
Up to £1.25 million of the grant will be available for approval capital expenditure and deferred maintenance essential for the purposes of the test period. Up to £750,000 will be available to help the council meet deficits over the next two years. The council may be required to apply future revenue surpluses of the port towards repayment of the grant.
This offer was made in response to an application for financial assistance by the Preston Council, following a report by the National Ports Council and a study by Placon Ltd. Having considered all the relevant facts, including the effects that closure of the port would have had on employment in the area, various representations that had been made to me including some by existing users of the port, and information in the Placon report about the scope for potential improvement in the port's traffic and financial position, the Government concluded that it was appropriate to make use of their powers under Section 7 of the Industry Act 1972 to provide assistance for the purposes of this test.
The offer of assistance does not provide for any payment of grant in respect of expenditure on the port after 30th September 1979, except that, if, after all, the council should decide to close the port, a further sum of up to £600,000 would be available to cover additional closure costs resulting from the test period.
Any Supplementary Estimates that may be necessary will be sought in due course.