Thanet council leader Bob Bayford has taken over responsibility for Ramsgate port and harbour.
The Conservative leader will be taking plans in a ‘new direction’ and says a detailed review of costs and income for both the port and the harbour is now underway.
He has also revealed that the authority will be looking at marina development alongside talks with Seaborne, the company which has put forward proposals for an Ostend/Ramsgate ferry route.
Last October, during the run up to the Ostend elections, town mayor Mr Vande Lanotte announced a ‘basic agreement’ had been made for the ferry line between Ostend and Ramsgate.
He said the route would start with freight but a passenger service could begin shortly afterwards.
The mooted March 1 start date came -and went- with no ferry service in evidence. No contract had been signed by Thanet council and there remained the question of which vessels could serve the route. Cllr Bayford says talks are continuing and a deal is now ‘close’.
A marina village plan is currently being promoted by the Ramsgate Action Group and county councillor Paul Messenger.
Ramsgate Port has made losses of some £20 million over eight years, excluding costs of £5million in live export compensation and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.
Council accounts for 2017/18 show a deficit of £2.637million for the year. However, the council says £1.052million of that relates specifically to capital charges including depreciation of assets. When excluded, the revised deficit is £1.585million for 2017/18.
Last year Thanet council also 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.
Cllr Bayford (pictured) said: “The Port of Ramsgate is one of our most valuable assets and its future is a priority for Thanet District Council. In reflection of this I have recently taken on the Maritime portfolio to oversee the development of a new strategic direction, with the principle aim to create a viable enterprise.
“A detailed review of the Royal Harbour and Port of Ramsgate is now underway, looking at the breakdown of costs and income from each, to determine the most cost-effective way forward.
“In the meantime, our discussions with Seaborne continue, to establish a ferry operation from Ramsgate to Ostend. Although an agreement has not yet been signed, we are close and this presents a real business opportunity which could generate significant income.
“We have to recognise that Ramsgate could play an important role in the UK’s post-Brexit resilience planning, offering an alternative route for cross-Channel traffic, should fears of delays through the Port of Dover, with consequent road congestion, be realised. Certainly, much greater clarity on this matter will be required before any strategy can be formulated though.
“Separately, we are also due to test the market with a number of marina development specialists to explore possible opportunities for investment in enhancement of the current harbour, so are taking a rounded approach to what happens next.
“I am committed to driving forward a resolution for the port and will be working hard to deliver a sustainable, viable business.”
A £1.2million project was undertaken to refurbish two of the port’s three Ro-Ro (roll on – roll off) ferry berths, aimed at extending the operational life of the berths to allow the Port to accommodate new business and meet the growing demand for cross channel freight capacity.
Maintenance dredging has also taken place in response to planned hydrographic surveying.
Business at the port includes deliveries of new cars for the UK market made by transport and logistics company GEFCO.
A year-long deal took place during 2016 and ad-hoc deliveries have taken place during the latter half of last year into this year.
Other business at the port includes Brett Aggregates, which imports bulk aggregates and has an on-site concrete batching plant serving the local building industry. And ‘project cargos’ of transformer imports. This year, five large electrical transformers were imported each weighing up to 300 tonnes.
Ramsgate harbour made a small profit of £558,000 for 2016-17 and £229,000 for 2017/18 through mooring fees and businesses at the Arches. It support a fishing fleet of approximately 26 vessels, 18 commercial day angling vessels, six Estuary Services Ltd Pilot Cutters and UK Border Force Cutters.
The 700 berth marina has been independently assessed by the Yacht Harbour Association and is presently graded as a four ‘Gold Anchor’ facility (five is the maximum). Permanent leisure vessel berthing achieved a 6 year peak in August at 4,031million.
The Port and Harbour is also home to the operational and maintenance base for two companies who manage four offshore wind farms adjacent to the NE Kent coastline.
News of Cllr Bayford’s takeover of the marina portfolio follows a meeting held by Ramsgate Action Group yesterday (August 29) where running of the facilities was criticised and a motion moved of ‘no confidence’ in the port and harbour management.