Public views on the future of Ramsgate Port and Harbour are still wanted by Thanet council which has extended the deadline for comments from this month to October.
Two public drop-in sessions due to have taken place at the port terminal building on March 30 and April 20 had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has resulted in the extension for residents to review consultant WSP’s high level feasibility study. New sessions will be arranged once there is more clarity around the lifting of current restrictions around social distancing and travel.
WSP’s report covers four specific areas (commercial, residential, leisure and mixed use) – other suggestions can be given too.
The report has suggested uses including reviving the hotel and conference centre plan for the Smack Boys Home building and creating industrial zones, waterfront homes, retail and themed leisure facilities.
The study also looked at ideas including a hotel and conference centre, berthing for small cruise ships, waterfront homes and the possibility of a maritime village.
WSP also advise retaining commercial port functions so “ro-ro operations can be accommodated on a significantly condensed footprint compared to current operations.” A single berth is suggested.
The report says industrial zones should be prioritised to retain employment land and the scope to deliver a significant jobs boost to the area with a focus on “specialist recycling centres, bespoke design studios, and 3D print facilities.”
Workshop areas for entrepreneurship opportunities and creative industries is recommended as well making space for specialist maritime purposes, such as vessel design / architecture.
Council leader Rick Everitt said he would like to see a major attraction, created in partnership with businesses and other organisations, to draw in visitors.
He said: “We need an economic attraction that brings in new people and builds connectivity into the town and around the Arches. I would like an attraction building on Ramsgate’s maritime heritage and connection with the Dunkirk Little Ships. This would need massive support from partners. It is about time there was some ambition for Ramsgate and we, as a community and a council, try and do something exciting.”
The WSP consultants add that residential dwellings are likely to deliver the largest benefits when on a plot overlooking the Royal Harbour. Ideas for a maritime village development look at mixed use development with waterfront homes -possibly apartments – shops, restaurants and cafes and commercial units.
Themed leisure uses are also suggested such as a theme park, aquarium, or watersports centre on the land currently occupied by the commercial port. The study also says Brett Aggregate operations should remain in place for the duration of the company’s lease.
A suggested timeline of three and a half years to complete the project is given.
The aim of the project is to stop the haemorrhaging of cash from port operations. Ramsgate Port has racked up total losses of £22 million since 2010.
However, last year – for the period between April and December – initial accounts show a port surplus of £385,074. There may be alterations to this amount as in-year figures have not yet been finalised.
This has been accrued through the use of Ramsgate Port for car imports – bringing in just under £32,000 in that period, rent and concessions income of just under £700,000 and income from vessels, goods and freight.
Savings were also made through the axing of 10 posts. Four were already vacant meaning six members of staff were made redundant.
Income for the period is listed as just over £1million. Outgoings, including employee costs of £78,598, equalled just over £690,000.
Payment to the Crown Estate for land it owns at the Port was £246,000 in 2019/20.
Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite said: “Business such as the car imports has put us in a pretty strong position. We are in contact with interested parties about using the port. It is a large estate and we need to do something with it.
“With reductions, efficiencies and car imports we are now breaking even but we need to think long term and look at investment and opportunities.”
Cllr Everitt added: ““Extending the period for comment feels like the most sensible course of action in the circumstances. We know that people care deeply about the future steps for the Port and Harbour and want to ensure there is plenty of opportunity for people to give their views.
“Right now, COVID-19 is impacting normal life. Our focus is on ensuring we support the most vulnerable members of our community and delivering critical frontline services to our residents.
“Once we have a clearer picture about when the current restrictions might lift, we will rearrange the proposed public drop in sessions to give people the chance to visit the Port, to ask any questions about the feasibility study and to give their views on what they would like to happen next. I am confident that residents will welcome this extended opportunity to give their views and thank everyone for their understanding at this time.”
Find the report at thanet.gov.uk/feasibility-study