A decision to buy two huge pontoons for Ramsgate port and harbour from construction firm BAM Nuttall looks to be off the table after Thanet council Cabinet members indicated they would reject officers’ advice to make the deal.
Councillors had been asked to approve a decision to buy the two 75 metre barges to provide a new berth 4/5 at the port for firm Brett Aggregates and to provide extra berthing for wind farm vessels at the Royal Harbour.
A decision could not be made tonight after a failure to give five days notice of the item but council leader Rick Everitt said the Cabinet intended to reject the plan of a direct deal with Bam Nuttall and instead put the option for renewing berth 4/5 out to tender and drop proposals for a second pontoon at the harbour.
Thanet council’s Section 151 officer – responsible for ensuring the legality and financial prudence of decisions – had raised concerns over the ‘direct deal’ with Bam Nuttall -excluding other firms from bidding – and questioned whether it would breach procurement rules.
Speaking about the legal advice on the issue Cllr Stuart Piper branded the process as like ‘ a chameleon in the middle of the jungle” forever changing colour.
He called for a total rejection of the plan, saying members had not been given sufficient information and questioning whether Brett’s should be responsible for maintaining the berth rather than the council.
Thanet council says it has a “legally binding agreement” to provide berth facilities for Brett Aggregates.
He also said officer’s advice that “if challenged” a court would need to decide whether the contract was legally sound was much the same as “saying robbing a bank is only a crime if you get caught.”
Green councillor Becky Wing said the business and finance plan, and engineers report, examining the berth purchase and uses should be made public. In a fiery exchange with council chief executive Madeline Homer, Cllr Wing questioned whether the reports even existed.
The pontoons from BAM Nuttall would cost £1.4million, but only if both are bought together. An officer’s report to councillors said alternative options – such as a new floating berth – would prove more expensive.
But Cllr Everitt said the controversial pontoons proposal would be rejected in favour of putting the berth 4/5 project out to tender. Cllr Peter Campbell said the decision meant BAM Nuttall would have to make a bid alongside other firms if they wanted to be considered.
Cllr Everitt added: “It is unfortunate we can’t reach a decision this evening. We will be as open and transparent as we possibly can be on this issue.”
A date for voting on the decision is yet to be set.