Tenders are being invited by Thanet council to carry out a feasibility study on Ramsgate Port and Harbour.
At a full council meeting in February TDC pledged to carry out the study before the end of the year. Thanet council said some £40,000 is earmarked for the feasibility study.
It followed the decision the same month to ditch £500,000 funding to keep Ramsgate port in readiness for a ferry operation and axe a further £130,000, totalling £630,000 (or £730,000 in a full year) from port spending.
It has not been detailed how the additional £130,000 will be saved.
The funding cut decision was made following the saga of Seaborne Freight proposals for a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service which, in December 2018, 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.
The last successful ferry operation at Ramsgate was run by Sally Line Ferries. Sally ceased operations in 1998.
The study will examine what future uses could be viable for the port and harbour to stop the haemorrhaging of cash from the port side of operations.
Ramsgate Port has racked up total losses of £22 million since 2010. The amount includes £3.4million in unpaid berthing fees from bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries and £1.4 million of compensation paid to live animal exporters following a High Court order. However, the total paid in compensation rose to around £5million.
International consultants Marine Development Limited have previously offered to carry out an appraisal of how a marina village could be created at Ramsgate Port and harbour.
Their study would have looked at options for operational integration of the Royal Harbour and a Marina Village, accommodating larger yachts, creating a berth for small cruise ships, the possible repositioning of the Royal Harbour based fishing fleet; wind farm support vessels; pilot services and associated support services. Also included was a suggestion for the creation of a hotel and conference centre surrounded by retail outlets, artisan workshops and markets.
In its brief MDL also said it could examine ideas for a yacht support service centre possibly incorporating a Marine Academy and maximising public spaces to give easy access to visitors and residents.
It would also have produced a 10-year cash flow projection detailing income, operating costs investment capital to implement recommended changes and significant capital replacement costs to sustain the current (and future proposed) site infrastructure.
However, there does not appear to have been contact between Thanet council and MDL since last year.
The feasibility study tender says the council is “seeking to undertake a high level feasibility study to inform future development, enhancement and diversification of use of the Port of Ramsgate.
“This feasibility study is Phase One of identifying the Port of Ramsgate’s strategic future and will explore and review the available options for the development, enhancement and diversification of the Port of Ramsgate. It should include findings, analysis, and conclusions from visioning and scoping exercises.”
The contract is expected to start on October 14 and last for approximately 12 weeks. Phase Two will be the drawing up of a Master Plan. A final report is expected for completion by January 2020.
Bidders have until 2pm on September 27 to submit their proposals.
Ramsgate Action Group member Dominic Murphy has raised concerns over the criteria for the contract. He said: “I’m sure a proper feasibility study is necessary and if properly done valuable. But, in the small print, the criteria for selecting the successful bid gives a 70% weight to price and 30% weight to quality of proposal. It should be the other way round.
“The budget is already set at a maximum of £40,000. So price savings can only be small. But loss of quality could be ruinous. What is more, the minimum size of company that can apply is set at an annual turnover of £80,000. That is below the VAT threshold and tiny given the scope of the task and its importance for the future of Ramsgate.
“If the job goes to a small operation with only the resources to take their lead from the desires of the existing TDC corporate management team, well I’m sure there are many that would think: “heyho, more of the same old same old”, and turn away in disappointment.
“Let’s not allow that to happen. We need to campaign for a study made by people with the resources to do it properly and (within reason) independently. The selection criteria in the tender documents must be changed.”