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Bosses planning a bitterly opposed sale of a major port were today given a four-week deadline to come up with possible new proposals following rule changes by the Government.
A local group, backed by Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, has campaigned against the planned sale of the port of Dover in Kent by the Dover Harbour Board (DHB).
Following a consultation period, the Government today announced revised criteria to be applied when considering sales of major ports in England and Wales, and which could lead to the setting up of ``people's ports''.
Under the new rules, the Government would not approve an application for the sale of major ports such as Dover unless the sale was ``likely to deliver an enduring and significant level of community participation in the port''.
The Government added that such participation ``could take a variety of forms, but must include the ability to influence the port's long-term development and may include the right to receive a share in the profits of the port, or the future increase in its value''.
Transport Minister Theresa Villiers has now written to DHB chairman Roger Mountford asking him to let her know if the board wanted its sale scheme to be considered under the new criteria ``or whether you propose to withdraw or amend it''.
Mrs Villiers added that it would be helpful if she was informed of a decision ``within four weeks''.
DHB has said its sale plan will be good for the town of Dover but opponents have said the plan does not fulfil the community engagement requirement.
The Government's regulations relate to the ``major trust ports'' which include not only Dover but Tyne, Milford Haven in South Wales, Shoreham in West Sussex, Poole in Dorset and Harwich Haven in Essex.
Saying it welcomed the new criteria, the Port of Dover added that it would respond to the Government ``in due course''.
Mr Mountford said: ``The Government has recognised that benefits from privatisation should flow both to local communities and to the national economy.
``Our scheme will deliver community participation, investment and regeneration, and the ability to develop and expand port infrastructure, while maintaining the resilience of fundamental parts of our national infrastructure.''