Possible delay on Ramsgate berth contract could ‘cost millions’ in ‘worst case’ says council

The old Berth 4/5

A preferred contractor to replace berth 4/5 at Ramsgate Port has been chosen – but contracts cannot be signed due to issues with the start date that could cost Thanet council £11,000 per week if missed – and even result in a bill for millions “in the worst case.”

Last December Cabinet members agreed to move forward with open tender for replacement of the Brett Aggregates berth at the port.

This berth is for the import of aggregates and will be fitted with 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.” It will be capable of docking 120m vessels.

The current berth was built in 2006 and supports one 400 tonne per hour conveyor belt and is capable of docking 90m vessels.

The tender follows the rejection of a ‘two for one’ deal on pontoons owned by construction firm BAM Nuttall.

Bam Nuttall pontoon Photo Brian Whitehead

The 75 metre pontoons had been destined to provide the new berth 4/5 at the port for Brett Aggregates and to create extra berthing for wind farm vessels at the Royal Harbour.

Councillors rejected the plan in favour of the open tender. This process has now been undertaken and the council has a preferred supplier although TDC says it cannot release details until contracts are signed.

However, the process is on hold while the council waits for a marine licence from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) – expected by September 8.

The contract start date has been set for September 14 but could be delayed because the MMO wants the work screened for an environmental impact assessment – which could add eight weeks to the plans.

Brett Aggregates

In a message to councillors TDC says: “The contract has to include an access date. This is a date that the contractor can get access to the site to start the work – that has been set as September 14.

“This is a critical contractual obligation by the council as the contractor will mobilise all the necessary resources to start the works from that date.  If access to the site is not available due to a delay in the issue of the MMO licence, then the contractor could claim an extension of time under the contract, which could cost the council up to £11k a week.

“The MMO has now indicated that it believes the works need to be screened for an environmental impact assessment, requiring a further 8 weeks. As this is a like for like replacement, the council does not believe that this is necessary and has sought external legal advice. An additional eight week delay will put the start of construction back to November.”

Thanet council says an eight weeks delay will lead to possible extra costs due to possibly having to renegotiate the contract and could even cost ‘millions’ if the supplier walks away and the Brett’s berth has to be decommissioned.

Ramsgate Port

The information to councillors says: “This will require more negotiation with the preferred supplier, which could result in renegotiation of contract terms, including additional cost, moving the access date into 2021.

“That in turn will require the existing berth to be decommissioned, resulting in potential contract default with Brett and significant cost to the council.

“In the worst case, the preferred supplier could walk away.  This would result in Brett having no berth and having to transport aggregate to the site via lorries and the council having to go through a new procurement process. Both of these eventualities would add significant risk and cost, estimated in the millions of pounds.”

Thanet council says it has a “legally binding agreement” to provide berth facilities for Brett Aggregates.

A budget of £887,000 has been set aside for the Port of Ramsgate berth 4/5 replacement.

County councillor Karen Constantine says she is concerned that the ‘current’ Environmental Impact Assessment for the port might not even exist. She said: “I’m concerned that despite spending more than 12 months formally asking KCC for sight of the Environmental Impact Assessment it hasn’t been forthcoming. I wonder if it actually exists. Whilst I welcome the opportunity to plan ahead and save tax payers money, we must ensure the right permissions and environment safeguards are in place. Before committing any further monies.

“Right now I want a copper bottom guarantee that our important local marine environment isn’t in any jeopardy, before any further expansion is carried out. That means an EIA must be carried out.”