Ramsgate Action Group is launching a campaign amid fears of industrialisation due to proposals for a 3000 ton per hour conveyor system at the port.
An invite to bid for the replacement of berth 4/5 was posted by Thanet council on the Kent Business Portal last month.
Thanet District Council says it is planning to replace the berth, consisting of two barges, and is inviting tenders to carry out a scoping and option study and to provide a performance specification and concept drawings for a design and build contract.
The successful bidder would also need to provide professional advice on the acquisition of the necessary Marine Management Organisation (MMO) licensing requirements for the project – such as those gained by Dover Port for the dredging of Goodwin Sands.
The invite says the “envisaged replacement is expected to be a piled structure capable of accepting a permanently fixed 3,000 tonne/hour conveyor… to facilitate future expansion for the landing of bulk cargos, the trafficking of mobile plant and with a lifespan of a minimum of 30 years.”
However the authority says it will not be paying for the conveyor. A spokesman said: “Thanet District Council is only replacing what already exists. It does not include the council providing a conveyor which is purely the responsibility of Brett.
“The council is obliged to repair/renew berths 4 / 5 as stated in the Facilities Agreement. The tenant (Brett Aggregates) has no property interest in berths 4 / 5.”
RAG fears the expansion could lead to pollution of surrounding areas, particularly the adjacent marine RAMSAR and Sites of Special Scientific Interest around Pegwell and Sandwich Bay.
The group has also questioned the need for Thanet council to be paying for the works – earmarked at £1.5million – saying the 2009 lease for the site indicates Brett’s is responsible for repair costs.
Thanet District Council says it is obliged to carry out repairs as part of the Facilities Agreement it has with Brett Aggregates
At a full council meeting on February 28 members were told the work was so that the aggregates company could: “use bigger vessels.”
RAG says expansion may also lead to more heavy vehicles using Military Road, where cafes and bars are sited in the Arches, even when the Royal Harbour Approach tunnel is open. Businesses fear this will have an impact on trade.
A Thanet council spokesman said: “Berth 4/5 is provided as part of the council’s lease agreement with Bretts for the importation of aggregates only.
“The budget for this revised project has been allocated in the 2019/20 financial year for capital replacement works.”
The spokesman added: “The current tender is for a consultant to draft the specification for works to berths 4 / 5 which will be followed in due course by a tender for a design and build contract.
“Any future works will not be an upgrade of the berth as it is a repair/renew activity which Thanet District Council is obliged to carry out as part of the Facilities Agreement it has with Brett Aggregates.
“Activities at the Port will be subject to future consideration as part of the options appraisal work which will need to consider Thanet District Council’s current legal obligations to Crown Estates and tenants/licensees of the Port and Harbour.
“The permitted use is for processing aggregates and a concrete batching plant.There is no permission within the lease to use it for waste; the invitation for tender is purely to repair/renew berths 4 / 5.”
‘Emergency’ refurbishment work previously carried out cost approximately £1.5million but Thanet council says this work was not on berths 4/5.
The spokesman said: “Berths 4 / 5 have not received any major refurbishment work in recent years.
“Refurbishment works were undertaken to Berths 2 and 3 in 2016, this was based on the anticipation that we would secure a new cross channel ferry operation at the port.”
The works were undertaken between September 2016-January 2018 by Burgess Marine, which has since been dissolved.
Brett Aggregates has a lease, signed with TDC in April 2009, which runs for 25 years with the option to renew every 5 years in a term that could run until 2054.
Thanet council pays an annual £246,000 lease fee to Crown Estates for the land.
A spokesman for Brett Aggregates said: “”We are a long-term tenant at the Port of Ramsgate, generating revenue for Thanet District Council. As with any lease agreement there are obligations on both sides. In this case, the council is responsible for the quayside and berthing facilities it owns. Brett is responsible for the conveying equipment which sits on the council-owned berth.
“As a local business producing building materials in Ramsgate we supply construction projects which help to support regeneration in the town and the surrounding area. Delivering aggregates to our Ramsgate concrete plant by sea is the most sustainable way to meet this local demand. The berth we use is nearing the end of its life and needs replacing so we can maintain a supply of materials.”
RAG say expanding industrial activities will destroy a marina development proposal which councillors agreed as part of the 2019/20 budget.
Thanet council announced the £40,000 feasibility study after the budget decision to axe funding to keep the port ‘ferry ready; in the light of a £21million deficit at the site racked up since 2010.
A sum of £500,000 has been stripped out of the 2019/20 budget and another £130,000 of savings have also been agreed for this year making £630,000 (£730,000 for a full year) in cuts.
That decision came at the end of the saga of Seaborne Freight proposals for a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service which, in December, saw the firm awarded a £13.8 million government contract for extra ‘Brexit-resilience’ crossings despite having no ferries and no company track record.
The government ditched the deal in February after saying backers for Seaborne had pulled out. The news came amid mounting pressure from politicians, media and reports from the National Audit Office that revealed Seaborne Freight was flagged as being a ‘high risk proposition’ before it was awarded the post-Brexit extra capacity contract.
RAG spokesman Steve Coombes branded the spend on the berths as “a new idiot loss-making scheme” and says the tender is “gibberish.”
He added: “Every pound lost on the port is a pound that TDC can’t spend on its core services like rubbish collection or street cleaning.
“Every pound lost on the port is a pound cut from TDC’s staffing budget and leads to more redundancies like the axing of the Thanet Coast Project manager.”
RAG say that even after saving £730,000 per year by standing the port down from “ferry readiness”, the port is still projected to lose a likely £1.37 million per year.
A meeting to launch the RAG campaign will be held at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate High Street on Wednesday (April 17) from 7.30pm.
Brett’s head office has been asked for comment,