Kent County Council is urging the Government to invest in the Port of Ramsgate and make more use of current lorry parking facilities at the Manston airport site as part of preparations for Brexit.
Leader of KCC Paul Carter says contingency plans must be put in place to minimise disruption on strategic routes through the county and that an alternative to Operation Stack must be found before new border and customs arrangements are introduced for the UK withdrawal from the European Union.
Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the UK Government triggered Article 50 in March 2017, starting a two year negotiation on a Withdrawal Agreement. On March 29, 2019, the UK will leave the EU and all EU law will transpose into UK law.
KCC says that the withdrawal from the EU will impact on Kent businesses and its infrastructure.
Cllr Carter claims Kent faces an increased risk of ‘direct harm’ if the UK-EU negotiations do not allow for trade that is ‘as frictionless as possible’, as increased border and customs checks will have an impact on the Kent highway network.
In a report examining what preparations should be made KCC suggest contingency plans covering ports and highways infrastructure need to be in place to minimise the disruption of Kent residents and businesses.
Manston airport site
Regarding Operation Brock, the replacement to Operation Stack, the report urges the Government to consider making further resources available including the opportunity of additional TAP -Traffic Assessment Project which was introduced to hold port-bound lorries outside the town on the A20 to prevent queuing in central Dover – on the A2 near Lydden and to exploit the Department for Transport’s (DfT) investment in Manston.
The report says: “KCC will continue to work with Highways England and the Department for Transport on their interim traffic management scheme and permanent solution, considering all available options.
“This should include the rapid deployment of an effective contra-flow system, maximising usage of all freight holding facilities both in and beyond Kent, and further testing of the Government’s previously developed contingency plan for holding freight traffic at the former Manston airport site.”
Last November a Government arrangement to use the site as an emergency lorry park for Operation Stack was extended for two years, allowing it to be used for Stack (now Operation Brock) until December 31, 2019.
In January this year The Isle of Thanet News exclusively revealed the emergency lorry park designation had cost the Department for Transport more than £5.7 million since 2015. The majority of the money was for site preparations. It has never been used for emergency lorry parking.
The report also calls for further investment at Ramsgate Port to equip it for larger ro-ro vessels.
The report says: “Whilst Dover will be the main focus for cross-Channel ‘Ro-Ro’ freight, KCC also recognises the potential for the Port of Ramsgate to provide additional resilience for ‘Ro-Ro’ freight traffic.
“Ramsgate has pre-existing ‘Ro-Ro’ berths and the c.£35m investment in the Ramsgate Harbour Approach tunnel in 2000 by KCC means that it has effective ingress/egress. With further investment to support dredging of the approach channel and a larger turning circle in the port, Ramsgate could accommodate larger ‘RoRo’ vessels providing further resilience for the county.”
Investment is also proposed for Sheerness port.
The KCC report adds: “Greater diversification of ‘Ro-Ro’ activity would enable greater resilience of cross channel ferry freight, help meet predicted growth in demand and mitigate potential delays for cross-channel operators if there are changes in border arrangements post-Brexit.
“The Government should consider investment into crucial infrastructure in light of the likely demands post-Brexit, and KCC will work with partners over the coming months to lobby Ministers.”
Last month Thanet council leader Bob Bayford said work on ferry operations is the priority for Ramsgate Port.
He said: “The right ferry operation under the right contract will start to plug the money pit that is currently Ramsgate Port.
“We want to do something about this and the quickest way is through a ferry operation. This would benefit Ramsgate and the whole of Thanet.”
Thanet council has been in talks with Seaborne freight and Belgian authorities about a Ramsgate- Ostend route. The service had been mooted to start in March but there has been no update on progress to date.
There has not been a cross-Channel operation at Ramsgate since the collapse of TransEuropa in 2013 which left Thanet council owed an unpaid debt of £3.4 million accrued by the ferry firm in port fees..
At present just one vessel has been identified as being capable of using Ramsgate’s ro-ro facilities due to the restricted size. This is the former Dover-Calais ferry MS Nord Pas de Calais.
Currently the port has a significant deficit. It has made losses of £20million since 2010, according to Thanet council’s statement of accounts for each financial year from 2010/11 to 2017/18.
The figures exclude £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Last year Thanet council said the figures 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.
This year the port recorded a loss of £1.8million. Expenditure amounted to £2.8 million and income was £1million.
According to figures provided by Thanet council to blogger Ian Driver just 44 vessels berthed at Ramsgate Port in 2017-18. In 2016-17, 165 vessels berthed at the port, meaning there has been a 73% decrease in just one year.