Thanet council looks at reviving ferry operations at Ramsgate with help of Levelling Up cash

Port of Ramsgate Photo TDC

Use of the Port of Ramsgate for ferry operations is being examined by Thanet council once more.

The last ferry to operate from Ramsgate was TransEuropa Ferries which went bankrupt in 2013 and left Thanet council with £3.4 million in unpaid berthing fees.

Since then a succession of ‘proposals’ have been mooted but not amounted to anything, including most recently the ferryless ferry firm Seaborne Freight that was awarded a £13.8million government contract in December 2018 for extra ‘Brexit-resilience’ crossings but in 2020 went into liquidation owing almost £2 million.

Now, Thanet council says the award to Ramsgate of £19.8million from the government Levelling Up Fund means it is now feasible to carry out improvement works such as the creation of HGV check-in booths and Border Control/Customs infrastructure and modernisation to lighting, fencing, waymarking and lane separation, at the port needed to host a cross-Channel service.

Looking at the future of Ramsgate Port and Harbour

In a council newsletter it says: “Some £9.62m of the Government LUF for Ramsgate is set aside to improve the Port, essentially to help us take things to the next level. The aspiration is to see the Port thrive, bringing more jobs, more opportunities for training and skills, establishing it as the ideal base for supporting the green industry.

“There is optimism for the future and we acknowledge that we need to continue to explain our rationale and to give the reassurance that this will mean action and not just words.

“The last time the port hosted a commercial ferry operation was in 2013. There was also some talk of a new operation which never quite arrived, so some scepticism is understandable.

“So what makes it attractive now? The landscape has changed. Things like increasing fuel costs and the prospect of more complicated border crossings improve the case for Ramsgate. The improved motorway network offers an alternative route to the M20, and the dedicated tunnel diverts traffic away from the town. Ramsgate’s ideal location, close to the continent, enables short sea crossing times. There is a real business case to host freight crossings again.

“Significantly, the LUF investment also removes one of the biggest hurdles that prevented this from happening before; the need for improvement works to the Port infrastructure to be able to deliver a modern cross channel freight service.

“This includes work to the berths, the creation of HGV check-in booths and Border Control/Customs infrastructure and modernisation to lighting, fencing, waymarking and lane separation.

“The extent of the work needed to make it viable was beyond the financial capability for us as a local authority. Now, thanks to Government funding we can do the work ourselves to bring the change which we believe will unlock new opportunities with potential operators.

“Our plans go beyond a potential new crossing and as our bid for the LUF identifies, this has to be supported by what we call ‘diversifying our offer’. Basically, we need to do more in the space we have to make it more successful! That’s why we’ll be delivering other projects like the Green Campus too.”

The Port of Ramsgate, at 34 acres, is owned and operated by Thanet District Council – some of  the site is Crown land. It is one of 23 municipal ports in England and Wales and is currently used by a variety of maritime businesses. Companies like London Array and Vattenfall choose to be based in Ramsgate so they can service the 320 wind turbines out in the Channel. Brett Aggregates is also located at the port and supplies materials to the building trade.

Brett Aggregates at Ramsgate Port

The Port has been haemorrhaging money since at least 2010 . In the 2020/21 financial year Thanet council recorded a port loss of some £2million according to its statement of accounts. This now brings the total over the last 12 years to more than £25m, not including capital spend on projects such as berth 4/5.

The aggregate berth (Berth 4/ 5) was decommissioned and removed in November 2020. Construction work on the new berth started earlier this year, following the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the granting of both planning permission and a Marine Licence.

New berth 4/5 Photo Mark Stanford

Major parts of the work such as the dredging, piling and installation of the new berth itself are now complete. One of the two gangway bridge sections has also now been installed which will link the floating berth back to land.

The project had originally been programmed for completion at the end of August but some land-based parts of the project and ancillary work on the floating berth continues this month.

The 119m replacement berth consists of a floating pontoon held in place by steel piles.  A hinged gangway provides access whilst accommodating tidal movement. The berth is longer and wider than the previous 70m long berth.

The old Berth 4/5

The contract for the berth was awarded to the firm that previously had its direct deal offer of two-for-one pontoons rejected by Thanet council.

The pontoons, owned by construction firm Bam Nuttall, had been the subject of the deal and destined to provide a new berth 4/5 at the port  and to provide extra berthing for wind farm vessels at the Royal Harbour.

Councillors were asked to approve the £1.4million decision to buy the two 75 metre barges but members opted to reject the plan in December 2019.

However, it was put it out to tender but dropping proposals for the second pontoon at the harbour. The contract was then given to Bam Nuttall. One pontoon is now in place at berth 4/5 and the other was finally towed from Ramsgate’s East Pier to Medway last month.

The Levelling Up Fund includes proposals to regenerate the site with a ‘Green Port’ projected to create 800 jobs, a Green Hub training centre for apprenticeships and training, hospitality and fishing fleet proposals.

The Ramsgate project also includes a training hotel and restaurant at the Smack Boy’s building at Ramsgate harbour, a brasserie and a fishing facility for the local fleet to store and sell catch from; a new town square on the current pier yard car park, a refurbished clock tower building and two community sites in Newington and Ramsgate with training kitchens and community teaching.

Thanet council is due to publish a ‘Port Narrative’ setting proposals out in further details and including a summary for the Green Campus.

7 port ‘proposals’ that never got out of the starting blocks

October 2012

Euroferries announced it would be operating a 102m trimaran high speed service from Ramsgate by 2013.


Euroferries again announced it would be launching a  Ramsgate to Boulogne service. It had also approached Thanet District Council back in 2009.  No service emerged.

Thanet council issued a statement to say: “Thanet District Council can confirm that there is no agreement with Euroferries Express ltd. to facilitate a cross-channel ferry service between Ramsgate and Boulogne.”

August 2014

Thanet council advised that talks were underway with potential ferry operators with names touted including DFDS.

September 2015

Ferry expert Bill Moses said he planned to relaunch ferry services at the port

His plans were for an operator to carry up to 500,000 passengers by its second year of operation at Ramsgate.

November 2016

Ramsgate Port

It was revealed that Thanet council had failed in a bid to get Government funding of £4.17million, to be matched with £2million from the authority, to carry out plans which could double lorry capacity at the port to one million vehicles a year.

A three phase expansion was planned.

The first phase was to improve the port’s handling capacity, particularly for unaccompanied freight vehicles, with a double deck ro-ro berth.

The second phase was the development of an on-port new alongside quay for the existing aggregates cargo and bulk cargo expansion and secondly an off-site freight logistics hub at Manston Business Park.

A third phase of seaward port expansion would have been dependent on demand.

April 2017

The  shipping expert taken on by Thanet council said the authority could buy its own ferry to run cross-Channel services from Ramsgate.

Robert Hardy, of Paradox Consulting, was one of the Ramsgate representatives who attended the industry Multimodal expo in Birmingham.

Talking to Shipping TV Mr Hardy said: “We have got to write a model as though we are starting our own ferry company. In fact I asked the question when I was brought in why don’t we buy the ferry, why are we relying on someone else to share our view?”

Thanet council later issued a statement to say: “The Port does not intend to either purchase or operate ships ourselves.”

August 2017

A tweet emerged ‘revealing’ Thanet council discussions with a Polish ferry company about bringing services to Ramsgate Port.

The council’s then-consultant Robert Hardy was believed to have been in talks with Polferries.


The saga of Seaborne Ferries begins when the company entered negotiations with Thanet council over a proposed service in 2017. A start date of March 2018 came – and went- with not a ferry in sight.

It followed an announcement by former Ostend mayor Johan Vande Lanotte in October 2017 that a ‘basic agreement’ had been made for the ferry line.

In August 2018 Seaborne Freight said  it was aiming to begin sailings at the end of the year – and  launched a website advertising the route.

During the Christmas period of that year news emerged that Seaborne Freight had been awarded a government contract worth £13.8million to provide extra ferry capacity to UK ports in the event of a no deal Brexit– despite having no ferries and no track record.

By January 2019 Britain and Ireland’s largest union, Unite, called for then transport secretary Chris Grayling to resign in the wake of the ‘no-deal Brexit’ ferry service contracts.

The £107 million deal with three firms, including Seaborne Freight, was slammed for ignoring the role of Eurotunnel. At the end of the month a Parliament select committee questioned the legality of the government contract awards to the three ferry companies, particularly Seaborne Freight.

In February 2019 the government contract with Seaborne was terminated. The Department for Transport said the agreement has been axed as Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements and the firm’s backer Arklow Shipping has pulled out of the deal.

By September 2020 Seaborne lodged a resolution to wind up with Companies House and a document to say voluntary liquidator Quantuma had been appointed.

According to the documents the firm had assets of around £39,000 in computer equipment, furniture and cash.

But it owed almost £2million, made up of £1.2m to trade and expense creditors, a £400,000 loan, £323,000 in directors loans and a £100 corporation tax bill to HMRC.

Ferryless ferry company Seaborne Freight goes into voluntary liquidation


  1. So folks were right when they said the tories would siphon of the money to balance the losses on the port.
    Now I can understand improving infrastructure however there is still a fundamental problem there are no ferries to fit a port that small. A port that needs regular cleaning of sand.

  2. With the many and continuing troubles and huge delays at Dover so prevalent of late this would seem an obvious move to make to ease the problems with cross channel traffic.
    Although I know little of the financial ramifications I can only guess that it would be a good thing for local jobs, the south east and the country in general.
    I , for one, will follow this with interest and hoping that it will indeed be viable.

  3. By the time that money filters down to the front line there will be little left and even if the port could reopen i doubt the council will have the foresight to undertake any upkeep.

  4. “Green industry ?”. Maritime transportation contributes more global carbon emissions than aviation. There is no “green” shipping fuel currently being produced at scale so I’m not sure how it will support the green agenda.

    Unless the “green campus” can devise a way to produce green hydrogen at a massive scale without adding to the national electricity burden or produce fuels such as ammonia for shipping fuel I’m not sure what their purpose is.

      • God help us.
        No they don’t any more than they run the airport but doesn’t stop them wasting public money on taking things to court.
        It’s just as well they don’t run the port on their record.

        • Have never noticed a Ferry flying over Ramsgate (yes sarcasm for your comment)
          RTC didn’t take anyone to court
          oh and the Judicial review succeeded making the SoS decision incorrect

          You do realise that government decisions can be reviewed by the courts that is part of the UK’s democratic process.

          • Ramsgate Town Council, led by the nose into choppy waters by “slippery Dick” did take Thanet District Council to Court and lost.

            I believe that Jenny Dawes OBE MBE ETC had been asked to give a breakdown of how the 10,000GBP given by RTC was spent and the rumour continued to express that Cllr Green, or you, had told her she didn’t need to do this. Why the heck not?
            And if the breakdown does exist why haven’t you published it?

      • god help us , I know they don’t ,but the useless RTC can still object against it , like the usually do if it good for the town

        • no they cannot
          however it seems off that a bid for levelling up funding for Ramsgate is diverted into the port which is owned by TDC when TDC runs up losses of more than £20M from 2014-2019

      • God help us.
        Trotting out the same old argument again? …. Yawn.
        I’m sure there will be an answer if indeed that is actually a real problem and not one in your head.
        I honestly don’t know that answer but being being so negative all the time will not produce results or much needed local employment.

          • God whatever..
            I didn’t say I know nothing to you only about the need to “find a small ferry”, a whinge that you have made in the past – either that or you have reiterated somebody else’s whinge. Perhaps you can enlighten us with facts on that subject?
            As for being negative, you put nothing but argument against in in that short statement you made.
            I’m all for a ferry service providing it is done properly and the stats add up. That’s not negativity but encouragement.
            Guess you need to read my posts properly!

          • Doesn’t tale much to research Ferrygate from 2018
            I believe Kathy did several articles on the subject
            just google ferry company without ferries

      • Were the Oleander and Ostend Spirit small ferries? As an ex worker on the weigh bridge for Transeuropa back in the day i can recall the sailings of those carrying a considerable quantity of freight. Seems that the comments are correct. Ramsgate Town Council (although unable to actually halt the idea or reopening the Port) will be against it,

        • People didn’t see the lorries as they drove off through the new tunnel. The Gardenia was smaller than the others. The Larkspur used to sail to Ramsgate as the Sally Sky before. The staff on board were extremely friendly and helpful. The security personnel in Ramsgate treated everyone as convicted terrorists…not the best PR.

          • The Gardenia looked small but had a better freight capacity than the Eurovoyager, or the Primrose. She was also perfect for hazardous cargos, owing to her open deck.

        • The Ostend Spirit was perhaps the limit (or a tick above) of the capacity of the port.

          Though, P&O have the Burgundy up for grabs, and the Kent/Canterbury will become available soon once the new double enders enter service. We know that the Burgundy can fit the port and the Kent/Canterbury are the same hull.

          • Theirs also a vast amount of fully qualified crew available after pos debatica at Dover ready and waiting they know the ships systems as they ran them even good excellent shore staff who know how to run them

  5. Wouldnt a fast passenger service to Boulogne be a great thing for Ramsgate and Thanet? I find it interesting that it failed previously through rough seas, and yet small dinghies cross with ease. Perhaps the weather has changed?
    My concern is the apparent lack of a business plan. There seems to be a belief that if we build it customers will come. I guess they certainly won’t if we don’t, but does that justify spending millions?

      • Yep and what about the pollution from cars and lorries or is that different from pollution aircraft would bring, there is no such thing as a carbon neutral ferry.

    • check out ferrygate
      the port is too small and the approach is dredged to 7m and most modern ferries have a draft of 6.5m

    • I’m pro both. I want a thriving successful airport and a booming seaport. Unfortunately we will get neither. They have thrown good money after bad chasing both when they’ve proved they don’t have the skills or intelligence to get either up and running properly, on multiple attempts, at this point it feels like they are skimming money and using the promise of both to just make money without ever actually getting close to providing one that makes money. When these two attempt fail – will the cheerleaders for both finally give up and let us stop wasting levelling up money and grants on these projects?!?

      That or we need competent people who actually want to succeed at launching either try.

      At this point I think everyone deep down know this is a waste of time

  6. Maritime village with people coming in and spending all year round would be a better idea. I note the “spokesman” states improved Mway connections and the new port route tunnel since the last commercial ferry ran. They were both in operation then, so it’s no change in logistics!!

  7. OMG. TDC has already spent more than £20m on this with no results whatever. I’d love a working port with all the ancillary services, but it hasn’t happened. Look at a map for god’s sake. The Goodwin sands make services from here much more expensive. Same old story, “I wish Ramsgate had x/y/z”. But they failed. The definition of idiocy: try something, it fails, try exactly the same thing again”. How about trying something new, not reviving old stuff that’s failed multiple times.

  8. I have waited so long for someone to use their brains, and get Ramsgate port up and running again. It could have help Dover, and those living along the motorway. It will also bring business to Ramsgate. We need to ferries, not just to go to France, but also Belgium. So when France play there games, ferries can still take vehicles and people into Belgium. Now the Council needs to get moving no more talking.

  9. Now that Duty free is back between here and Europe , a ferry service will make money , cheap cigarettes, wine , spirits etc , hopefully TDC will find an operator , it’s a shame Irish ferries didn’t choose Ramsgate instof Dover !

    • Not cigarettes, they need to be banned. A high class restaurant and cocktail bar is the way to go. Perhaps a strict dress-code too.

  10. IF there is serious consideration of this idea, then please let it be to a port other than Calais to avoid the problems and congestion there.

  11. Fuel is very expensive, Dover Calais is the shortlist distance. Fares Ramsgate to wherever will be more expensive people will go for the cheapest fare.
    The boat needs to have a low draft?There are not many in the world. Who buys it, builds it or pays for it???

  12. My thoughts are that it’s just too far to other parts thus increasing fuel costs for the ferry, which means you have to charge more for the crossing. So what would you gain by crossing from Ramsgate instead of Dover? The answer is not much if anything, the crossing will cost more and take longer.

    • Could be worth extra costs to avoid two or three days of sitting on the M20 ALSO LESS MILAGE to some other parts of the EU,

  13. The one problem thanet/ramsgate has is poor infrastructure.

    Might have an airport, might have a port but how do you get people and cargo out of thanet and kent ?

    You cant rely on a two lane thanet way and M2. Both will need up graining to at least a 4 lane road. As you enter ramsgate you have the terrible lord of the manor roundabout to get passed.

    Unless the government is going to invest billions into Kent’s infrastructure nothing will survive in thanet/ramsgate.

    Big companies will want to move their cargo quickly something the thanet way and the M2 doesnt offer. Certainly the trains dont offer it unless a huge haulage yard is built at the port and airport.

    I havent read anywhere were the government is planning this billions of pounds to up grade.

    This isnt anti port or anti airport just some simple facts about the infrastructure in SE Kent.

    Dover infrastructure isnt great but it makes more sence to upgrade dover M20 as it is a going concern and a proven track record

  14. The problem, as always, will be to find anyone, or any trustworthy group, (regardless of political persuasion) that are capable of applying propriety towards ensuring that ALL the money is spent on the first intended, stated purposes. For the avoidance of doubt, that does not include payments for “favours”, bribery” or the misappropriation of public money to pay for legal in-fighting, to keep known wrong-doing Thanet District Council Principal Officers in their transparently failing jobs for as long as possible.

    Only TDC could be capable or snatching failure from the jaws of success, by even ignoring the naturally occurring and predictable successes and benefits we are seeing from the silver linings of tourism increases following Brexit, the Euro exchange rate, Covid and London, eventually remembering where England and its beach assets are, for their families well deserved holidays.
    Ferry docks? and general commerce? They can’t provide and maintain adequate toilets in Margate and elsewhere. So please! don’t get excited about a commercial ferry port. The best officers they could find got involved with that once before, remember?

    Responsible, honest, and justifiable spending, for a long-term gain plan is necessary, with no unaccountable losses and/or waste, without strictly applied personal accountability, sackings or imprisonment for the failures, transgressors and the proven guilty. Is that too much for long-suffering members of the public to expect, ask or even demand, from council officers paid exorbitant wages from public funds, to do their job properly? With common sense and integrity that most members of the public possess themselves and, on any showing, can see what is wrong and could do better themselves?

    19.8 million? Controlled by Thanet District Council? A complete waste already, and the Next!
    What is needed is not simply money, it is a new, responsible governing body. Preferably with different faces, mindsets and with proven histories and abilities.
    Just a thought.

  15. Some people are very quick to blame councils for the failure of manston air and the port. When in fact its simply down to location and poor infrastructure.

    Companies need to move cargo quickly and cheaply something the councils cant offer.

    It’s to expansive to have your cargo stuck in traffic or have to buy aviation fuel from a HGV. You have to pay the middle companies to tank in fuel. When at Gatwick the aviation fuel is on tap so cheaper.

    So dont blame the councils for the location and lack of infrastructure.

  16. PS the port tunnel closes once a month for maintenance so on that day all traffic will have to go along the harbour road !! Passed the little cafes and shops etc. It would be chaos.

      • Well, yes, we are! Ramsgate relies on tourism. The Harbour arches are a big part of this.
        Come down for a drink when the tunnel is closed, massive lorries speeding (no 10mph compliance) along, a few feet from you and your drink. Noise, vibration, fumes and, if aggregates, a light dusting of cement or gravel.

    • They’ve put up a barrier at the harbour edge now, so it’s not like you’re going to be falling in to the harbour because of the lorries is it? Sheesh …

  17. Peter

    I bring up vaid points.

    And those who want the port to succeed never explain how my points can be overcome.

    I am not bothered either way as I believe the bottom line we be if its viable.

    Seeing as the tunnel shuts once a month for maintenance under very light traffic, how many times will it shut under heavy traffic use ?

    “Oh dear you poor things” if you are happy sitting at a harbour side cafe as huge HVG’s go passed a few feet away , fine. Once the tunnel is closed for maintenance the only route out is along the harbour and a very tight left turn at the mini roundabout.

  18. Port or airport? Both are doomed. Labour will oppose any plan that help people to a job. More jobs is less poverty. Less poverty is less votes for Labour.
    A ferry to Belgium would be a USP. Shorter connection to Germany and Eastern Europe than the French ports. Less truck mileage.

    • Patrick

      Forget the politicals explain who kents/thanets infrastructure is going to cope ? You have planes coming in e every 15 minutes and ferries every hour. How is the thanetway and M2 going to cope ?

    • Nothing to do with opposing jobs, just realism. Ostend port is closed. Shortest route is best as ferries go 10mph tops and road freight goes at 60mph. Money would be better spent on sustainable projects (onshore wind farm and ancillary services at Manston) rather than trying to revive failed last century industries.

      • Port of Ostend closed?
        Must have happened last week. The week before it was still open.
        Ferries 10mph tops? Again someone misinformed you.
        Roro ferries operate at 16 to 20 knots, which is 20 sea miles an hour. Not 10 land miles.
        And if you need speed and efficiency and green transport: freight trains, not lorries.

    • There would be plenty of Labour votes from the low wage ferry ( see Dover as reference) or cargo hub that will need to be dirt cheap if it’s got any hope of stealing trade from elsewhere

  19. I wait with bated breath as TDC throw more millions into the sea and sand. nothing changes at TDC. I would like a ferry return but not very likely as all have gone broke before just as at Manston. Sadly both are not viable as far as profit are concerned. There would need to be at least 2 berths for a viable service. At least 4 ferries operating to somewhere. Dream on I think.

  20. Just a thought, why not pool all the money that is available for new, or to improve ferry ports and build a new road or rail tunnel ? If the powers that be decided to do that then maybe it could happen using the “New Ramsgate” station, ensuring no goods vehicles have to travel through the town of Ramsgate. As I say just a thought.

  21. Maybe tdc could get a ferry company to run car,coach,freight and foot passenger service.
    But get the ferry operator to pay up front for all the work that needs to be done with the ports linkspan bridges, dredging, well everything. It will be costly.
    Iirc tdc’s levelling fund bid application did not mention ferry services but it mentions bretts new pontoon berth which has i think already much spending already.
    cross channel Ferry services these days have small margins of profit, ask any ex p&o crew member.
    Hopefully tdc is just scoping for interest in ferry operation and just leave it at that Until the ferry company company comes with all the necessary funding With safeguarding of tdc’s (including council tax payers) interests.

  22. If it works I say what a fantastic idea and if jobs are created just as they said it will in manston again if it works I’m all for it bring it on.

  23. So after years of failed attempts and millions of wasted £ we are still debating a ferry port. Just because current circumstances lend themselves to a port doesn’t mean its sustainable. How about a different use for the land… suggestions?

  24. On eco speed it would take 4 hours to Belgium. Drivers could take a well deserved nap before driving to Germany or Poland.

  25. Alternatives for Port Ramsgate:
    A dozen more art centres, 8 nail studios, a couple of job centres, another spoon, a prison, a few undertakers, and , of course, estate agents. We could even board up the rest of High Street and Harbour Street.

  26. RSP have just issued a press release on their website confirming that they are in talks to co-fund and develop the port to support the air freight trade, as the synergies between Manston and the port would allow them to be even more competitive than before.

    If successful, and together with the fresh proposals by the new government, Ramsgate will be an economic powerhouse.
    The press

    • Back in the days of TEF, before Manston closed and they went bust, there were often trucks coming down from the airport to ship over to Oostende.

    • Just the sort of pie in the sky bollocks RSP have been peddling for years. And they still can’t produce a business plan with any numbers in it, or even pay what they owe in costs for defending an indefensible DCO decision. And what happened to the £8.5 million of public money they were given by the Department for Transport for no reason? Just because RSP says something doesn’t make it true, like their greenwashing over a ‘Net Zero’ airport. It’s just lies.

  27. Anybody interested in working at the Port? Anybody unemployed with the right skills looking forward to this development?

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