Ramsgate freeport proposal to be backed by government and private finance claims company boss

Freeport proposal

Central and local government funding and private finance would be used to back a freeport idea connecting Ramsgate Port and the Manston airport site, claims the marketing company putting forward the proposal despite the sites being in council, crown and private ownership.

Founder of company i4c, Stan Vines, says the project plan was put together after he was approached by an officer from a commercial bank he has previously dealt with. The scheme, he says, has received interest from the bank and other institutions.

The freeport idea suggests creating a new Ramsgate Freeport and using Manston airfield, connected to the port via an extension to the existing road tunnel, resulting in a technology based Free Zone for the future.

I4c, Information for Contracts Ltd, of London, has created the proposal with city architects ORMS, the Crawford Partnership, consulting engineers Tony Gee and Partners LLP and the law firm Temple Bright LLP.

They say it is a response to the government announcement to create up to 10 freeports in locations across the UK.

The government wants to establish freeports, which have different customs rules than the rest of the country, with tariff flexibility, customs facilitations and tax measures.

It is understood that there have been early-stage discussions about freeport opportunities including Ramsgate at regional level but the i4c proposal wasn’t part of them.

The Port is run by Thanet council which leases part of the estate from the Crown.

I4c says their plan would mean the refurbishment and upgrade of the existing port in the first phase of a dual purpose development to create additional channel port capacity in readiness for the UK exit from the European Union on December 31.

A document outlining a 10 year, phased development, has been passed to Thanet councillors Peter Campbell and David Green and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Mr Vines (pictured) said: “There have been other schemes submitted for the regeneration of Ramsgate and the region but none as comprehensive as this from i4c with the unique inclusion of Manston in application for Freeport status.”

The plans include a traffic segregation scheme to keep commercial vehicles away from the town but enabling access to local facilities for leisure and tourist traffic from incoming ferries.

It claims that in the first year the port would undergo an upgrade of the ro-ro ramps,  berth assessment for larger vessels, renovation and additional stevedore and parking areas. At Manston the plan says there would be construction of custom facilities, a logistics and storage hub and  renovation of hanger and cargo sites plus the potential for light industry.

Manston airport site Photo Frank Leppard

However, RiverOak Strategic Partners, which owns the majority of the Manston airport site following a £16.5million purchase from Stone Hill Park last year, has not been included in discussions.

RSP is awaiting a government decision on a Development Consent Order to create an air freight hub at the site.

RSP submitted a DCO application in July 2018 in a bid to gain compulsory buy-out powers over the Manston airport site. The firm wants to revive aviation at the site with a cargo hub and associated business.

The DCO seeks development consent and compulsory buy-out powers over the land. It is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP).

An RSP graphic of Manston airport

However, Stone Hill Park – which had planned housing, business and infrastructure development at the site – withdrew after selling the land to RSP at the same time as the DCO hearings ended last year.

The DCO decision had been due in May but a delay means the announcement is now expected on July 10.

A spokesperson for RSP said: “We haven’t spoken to them and our focus at this time remains on the DCO, the decision for which is due on July 10.”

Mr Vines said: “RSP made a speculative agreement on a site that was sold not long ago for £1. I have been involved in projects where land, for various reasons, had negative values of millions less than £1. I know this is difficult to grasp but right now, speculation is that bank interest rates could go to several negative points. You pay the bank to keep your money. Unheard of under normal circumstances until late.

“The current situation is that it still has a value of pocket change until planning for a suitable scheme is granted. Irrespective of their ‘ownership’ and/or whatever they ‘paid’ for it, its designation still reflects that old value.”

He added: “We are happy, if our scheme is preferred, to consult with them if they wish to take part. However, our scheme will see the overall Freeport as being one ‘Trust Port’, as per our legal advice.”

Ramsgate Port

Mr Vines claims “thousands of jobs will be created at the ‘free zone technology park’ and through the port expansion and many more with the development of substantial retail, residential and leisure facilities.”

The businessman says his experience for such a project includes working with the shipping industry when in lived in Greece from 1996 then dealing with business in the Middle East and East and North Africa, contracting to a Swiss investment company for marketing and commercial information.

He said: “The contacts made in the last 20 years and from before my time in Greece came together to produce the proposal.

“We see a combination of central, possibly some local government and private finance to fund the development, the latter through the bank and other institutions that have shown interest.”

Cllr Green replied to i4c to say he expects the RSP application to be rejected but highlighted the current consultation on the port and Crown ownership of the reclaimed area, adding: “Any further expansion of the site is constrained by the protection afforded to the adjacent SSSI at Pegwell. (The) proposed link to the Manston site is of interest in this regard. For myself, I find the employment prospects in (the) plans of greatest interest.”

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.

Ramsgate port and harbour Photo Adam Cowell

The Port is currently the subject of a consultation, running until October, following a high level feasibility study by consultants WSP.

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.

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.

Commenting on the freeport proposal Cllr Everitt said: “Pending the outcome of the DCO on the airport any such discussion on this is premature.”

There has not been a cross-Channel operation at Ramsgate since the collapse of TransEuropa in 2013 which left Thanet council owed an unpaid debt of £3.4 million accrued by the ferry firm in port fees.

Negotiations with ferry service providers since that date have been fruitless.

In December 2018 the saga of Seaborne Freight proposals for a Ramsgate/Ostend ferry service 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 2019.