Opposition councillors on Thanet District Council have “called in” a decision by the minority Conservative administration to shift around money in this year’s budget to pay for a new commercial berth in the eastern gully of Ramsgate Harbour.
The decision, published on Friday afternoon (September 20), is to use £590,000 of the £1.477m funding agreed by the previous council earlier this year to replace berths 4/5 at Ramsgate port.
The council says the decision is about reallocating the funds and delivering both the Berth 4/5 project and the Royal Harbour Commercial Berth project through a combined procurement exercise, meaning there will be no extra funding needed.
A separate decision over whether to spend the money will be reported and made later.
The shifted money is to buy and install two pontoons from BAM Limited, one of which will replace berths 4/5, currently used by Brett Aggregates. The pontoons were previously used for work on Crossrail in London and are moored at the East Pier.
The budget decision has been called in – meaning it will now be discussed by a council committee on October 1 – by four Labour councillors – leader Rick Everitt, deputy leader Helen Whitehead, shadow cabinet member Steve Albon and overview and scrutiny chair Peter Campbell, together with Lynda Piper of the Thanet Independent Group, on grounds of openness and transparency.
Council rules require five councillors of more than one party to trigger a call-in, which enables scrutiny members to review the decision before implementation and if appropriate ask cabinet to reconsider. The committee has no ultimate power of veto.
Cllr Rick Everitt (pictured) said: “It is the case that members of all the three largest groups on the council have been briefed on this project at various stages as it has taken shape and that we have respected the confidentiality of those briefings, but people should be clear that the decision-makers here are the Tory cabinet.
“This is a highly unusual procurement and therefore requires a closer look than usual. The fact that the decision notice was published without warning after 5pm on a Friday afternoon and an explanatory email sent to all councillors even later than that is disappointing. Whatever the reason, it makes it look as if the administration was seeking to close down discussion before the weekend.
“We recognise that there is public interest in this issue in Ramsgate, especially now it involves the harbour, and therefore feel it is right to bring it into the formal arena at the earliest opportunity. There are questions to be asked about this scheme and we believe they need to be asked and answered in a public forum so that the concerned residents, as well as councillors from all sides, can hear the answers for themselves.”
The huge pontoons are destined for the Brett’s aggregate site at Ramsgate Port and for berthing at the Royal Harbour for offshore wind farm crew transfer vessels, tugs/works vessels and large barges.
The council published a £1.4million invitation to tender on the Official Journal of the EU for bids for a qualified contractor to supply and install the two pontoons or barges.
The invitation appears to have been removed from the Kent Business Portal but remains on the EU website.
The ‘Installation of Commercial Floating Berths at Port of Ramsgate and Ramsgate Royal Harbour’ procurement invite states: “One of the berths will be used for the import of aggregates at the Port of Ramsgate and will serve coaster type vessels. This berth will be fitted with an aggregate conveyor by a third party following the completion of the contracted works.
“The second berth will be used for large commercial vessel berthing in the Royal Harbour. Vessels such as offshore wind farm crew transfer vessels, tugs/works vessels and large barges will be served by this berth.”
An aggregate conveyor was also subject to a tender process earlier this year when Thanet council invited bids to replace the port’s berth 4/5 with 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.”
In a document to councillors the authority says completing both projects together will save money and mean increased business for the harbour.
It states: “The Commercial Berth project in the Eastern Gully of Ramsgate Harbour will improve berth quality and commercial berthing capacity for larger vessels. Existing berthing for large commercial vessels in the Royal Harbour is already at capacity. Not doing this project would leave the Harbour unable to accommodate new business in this sector. Demand for such berthing is anticipated to increase from 2020 in connection with major third party project work.
““Design estimates indicate that savings can be made if both schemes are delivered simultaneously and that both can be delivered without increasing the value of the 2019-20 capital programme. One of the reasons that savings are possible is because there will only be a need to mobilise the expensive plant and equipment to install both berths once.”
The issue will be discussed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the council offices in Margate on October 1 at 7pm.