THE COMPANY which operates Burry Port harbour has vowed to make a success of the “loss-making” facility despite falling behind on payments and receiving a legal notice from Carmarthenshire Council.
Chris Odling-Smee, director of The Marine and Property Group, said the harbour – which has been criticised for its current state – had proved more of a challenge than anticipated since the council awarded it a lease five years ago.
But he said: “We are genuinely committed to Burry Port. Our enthusiasm as to what it will become is undimmed.”
The council has served the company with a legal notice outlining potential breaches of the lease and a requirement to address them.
The authority said in a Freedom of Information response that the operator owed rent of just over £137,200 – dating from 2020 to 2022 – and £83,000 in unpaid business rates between 2018-19 and 2022-23.
Mr Odling-Smee said a repayment plan had been agreed with the council and that the outstanding amount was coming down.
He added that business rates for the harbour could be reduced significantly if an appeal submitted by the company to the Valuation Tribunal for Wales was successful.
Mr Odling-Smee said a dredging and investment plan for Burry Port harbour had been published for 2023 and that The Marine and Property Group had “no lack” of people who were keen to invest in the company. It runs five harbours in Wales and England and hopes to acquire a sixth.
Two months ago campaign group Friends of Burry Port Harbour presented a petition to Carmarthenshire Council which said the harbour had deteriorated to an essentially unworkable state and desperately needed a comprehensive programme of dredging.
The group’s chairman, David Williams, said around 370 of the harbour’s 420 berths were empty and suggested that the council looked for another tenant if The Marine and Property Group could not fulfil its responsibilities.
Several councillors said they weren’t happy with the state of the harbour, including Burry Port ward member John James, who said he felt the harbour was “close to the point of no return”.
Cllr Gareth John, cabinet member for regeneration, leisure, culture, and tourism, said the council had “robustly” asked the operator, which has a 150-year lease, to abide by a clear management plan “without further delay”.
The authority said the legal notice it has issued to The Marine and Property Group since the council meeting required a clear, measurable, and time-bound plan of action to address concerns. The council said it had taken action about the money owed, and confirmed that rent and business rates repayment schedules were in place.
Meanwhile, Friends of Burry Port Harbour’s Mr Williams said a working group of local business leaders had been set up with a view to create a not-for-profit “trust port” – similar to one at Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire – should the harbour require an alternative operator in the future.
Mr Williams said: “What we are trying to do is offer a regeneration plan to make the harbour an exciting destination.”
Mr Odling-Smee said anyone who thought they could operate the harbour would need to have deep pockets and invest significantly in dredging. He said the cost of bringing in an external dredging contractor to remove the large amount of material which has accumulated could cost £1 million.
He added: “You’re talking about a loss-making facility and we are shouldering those losses.”
There are wider council-led plans to regenerate the harbourside area, with hundreds of new homes, employment and commercial space proposed.
Mr Odling-Smee said he supported the council’s ambition, and that The Marine and Property Group was determined to play its part.
“It is tough, but we are not quitters and we will make it work,” he said.