What you need to know about Ramsgate Port as the ‘ferry service’ bid continues

Ramsgate Port Photo Maxine Morgan

This week Thanet council announced it had appointed a new ‘shipping expert’ as the authority continues its bid to bring ferry services, and other ‘economic  opportunities’ to the Port of Ramsgate.

The announcement came in the same week as TDC officers and directors made the trip to Birmingham for the industry logistics event, Multimodal 2017.

In the light of the renewed efforts The Isle of Thanet News decided to take a closer look at the Port’s ferry and economic history:

Where it began

The construction of Ramsgate Harbour began in 1749 and was completed in about 1850

Because of its proximity to mainland Europe, Ramsgate was a chief embarkation point both during the Napoleonic Wars and for the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. The ferry terminal area is built upon reclaimed land.

All aboard

Sally Line ferries was founded in 1981 and operated between Ramsgate and Dunkerque. Between 1993 and 1998 there was also a service to Ostend but this was moved to Dover and the Sally ceased operations in 1998.

By Graham Smith via Wikimedia

During its time at Ramsgate the ferry service was popular with holiday-makers, day trippers and ‘booze cruisers’ who made the round trip, buying duty free cigarettes and alcohol and enjoying on-board discos, food and entertainment.

TransEuropa Ferries began operating the Ostend route on 20 July 2004. Foot passengers were not catered for on this crossing, which  took four to five hours.

By Marc Ryckaert via Wikimedia

On 18 April 2013 the company stopped sailing and on 25 April filed for bankruptcy

Thanet council was left with an unpaid debt of £3.4 million accrued by the ferry firm in port fees.

No ferry service has operated from the port since that date despite councillors saying efforts were being made to find a new operator and other economic opportunities were being examined.

In 2014 Thanet council said the end of the ferry service meant the end of the biggest income generator at Ramsgate Port.

Reported talks in 2015 with “a credible potential RoRo operator”  were also fruitless.

Activity at the port

In January 2016 a deal was signed between Thanet council and transport and logistics company GEFCO UK Ltd for the use of the Ro-Ro (roll on – roll off) berths and storage for imported cars prior to distribution around the UK.

Photo Ray Sun

The deal came to an end in January of this year.

Photo Steve Coombes

That month also came the news that the Ramsgate Sprint event, which attracted thousands of visitors in 2015, would not be given permission to run again because the port area organisers needed was reserved for ‘commercial use.’

In October 2016 the UK’s largest crane arrived on 17 low loader HGV’s before it was assembled, to be used to help refurbish the 26 year old floating berth at the Port – which can be used to dock large ferries.

The berth is double decked allowing HGV’s to be loaded or unloaded onto two decks of a ferry at the same time.

At the time Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Cllr Hunter Stummer-Schmertzing, said: “We’re working hard to ensure that infrastructure at the port is modernised and commercially competitive to put us in the best possible position to attract new business. Refurbishing the berth will allow us to dock far larger ferries than we’re currently capable of hosting at the port. When you add that to our location – being the second closest port to mainland Europe, we believe we’re a viable proposition.”

In November 2016 it was revealed that Thanet council had  failed in a bid to get Government funding of £4.17million, to be matched with £2million from the authority, to carry out plans which could double lorry capacity at the port to one million vehicles a year.

The cash would have paid for a new double-deck ro-ro berth at the Port of Ramsgate.

A three phase expansion was planned.

The first phase was to improve the port’s handling capacity, particularly for unaccompanied freight vehicles, with the double deck ro-ro berth.

The second phase was the development of an on-port new alongside quay for the existing aggregates cargo and bulk cargo expansion and secondly an off-site freight logistics hub at Manston Business Park.

A third phase of seaward port expansion would have been dependent on demand.

Ramsgate Port currently has the capacity to accommodate up to 500,000 HGV’s per year.

Aggregrate plant plan

The same month saw a proposal by Bretts Aggregates for a wash plant at the port– to process sea dredged sand and gravel – withdrawn.

The proposal created opposition, with residents saying the process could create water and dust pollution and industrialisation of the port area could have an adverse impact on Ramsgate’s reviving tourist industry.

Photo Angela Stevens

The plan was to have the plant within Bretts’ leased area – which was recently extended along with the range of uses permitted to include aggregate washing and erection of the necessary plant– at the port in the western area of the ferry terminal where lorries were parked up.

Members of the Nothing Concrete at Port Ramsgate group sent in letters of objection to Kent County Council, which was the responsible authority, against the creation of the industrial sand and gravel washing plant.

From that social media page a new Ramsgate Action Group has been created.

Shipping expert

This week Thanet council announced the appointment of a ‘shipping expert’ to help in their bid to return cross-Channel services to the Port of Ramsgate.

Robert Hardy of Paradox has 35 years of experience in the European shipping and transport industry.

According to his Linkedin profile Mr Hardy was a director at  Motis FSA Dover from 2012 until this month.

Motis is responsible for freight clearance and truckstop facilities at the Port of Dover. Services include : freight ferries, road tolls, VAT & TIPP recovery, fuel and tyres.

Alongside this, from 2010 to the present day, Mr Hardy is listed as Managing Partner for Paradox consulting service, specialising in European Logistics management.

Gavin Waite, Director of Operational Services, said: “Over the last 18 months we have made a significant investment in port infrastructure to ensure we are open for business. The delivery of a new cross channel service remains a key priority and securing the services of Rob Hardy is testament to this commitment and will help us achieve this objective.”

Competition from Dover

Doubts over the return of a ferry service to Ramsgate have been expressed, with some commentators highlighting the likely overwhelming competition from Dover in the wake of its £135m expansion project at the Western Docks which will include  a new cargo terminal, waterfront development and marina.

Photo Port of Dover

A  24-month programme with dredging and piling activities is now underway. Specialist vessels have started to arrive at the port  for the commencement of harbour dredging.
Approximately one million cubic metres of silt, gravel and chalk will be removed.

Planned works include extensive dredging and construction of a new 560m curved marina pier.

The finances

Annual accounts by Thanet council show the port has lost £7.6 million in five years – excluding £5million in live export compensation and the  £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges

The figure is shown in the authority’s statement of accounts covering the 2010- 2011 financial year to 2015-2016.

Thanet council says the figure included revaluation of assets, costs and depreciation – meaning the total stated amount has not actually been taken from council funds.

TDC says the money lost in real terms was £2.6million but annual audit papers show £7.6million due to ” strict accounting rules.”

TDC said the £7.6million figure included costs which are shared across other areas of the council for the running of its services, rather than being directly incurred in running the port.

Income at the port includes berthing fees, pilotage, waste disposal, equipment hire and land rental – including to building materials supplier Brett Aggregrates.

In 2015-16 the port had outgoings of £4,381,000 but its income was just £937,000.