Plans to find an operator to bring ferry services back to Ramsgate Port will move forward after being agreed by Thanet council Cabinet members.
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 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.
In 2021, Thanet council secured £19.8m for Ramsgate as part of the Government’s Levelling Up Funding (LUF). Some £9.62m of this is set aside to improve the port and includes plans for a ‘Green Port’ projected to create 800 jobs, a Green Hub training centre for apprenticeships and training, hospitality and fishing fleet proposals as well as improvements to the berths, mooring spine and check-in/border facilities.
A total of £3.5 million is earmarked for port infrastructure.
Previously interest has been expressed by ferry operators, EU ports and haulage companies for cross-channel operations but Thanet council did not have the funds for necessary infrastructure works until now.
A report completed for the council by consultants Infrata says there is a demand for cross channel ferry freight services, with limited opportunities for expansion in other ports, meaning Ramsgate has a significant opportunity to take a share of the increase in cargo in the future.
Cabinet members approved an option for a multi-purpose hybrid model offering a concession contract with a lease attached to it for part of the port to be used by a ferry operator while the rest of the site is used for different commercial and training interests.
Agreements with Brett Aggregrates and wind farm operators will remain in place and there will also be negotiations with Brett Aggregates about expanding on a further two acres of land. The existing aggregates site occupies two acres of land and is served by berth 4/5, which was replaced in 2022..
The site incorporates a concrete batching plant, which is served by some of the aggregates brought to the site via sea. Cement is brought to the site via road tanker and is stored in two silos. The concrete plant serves the local building industry in East Kent. It was suggested better terms for the council could be instigated with a new or revised lease for Bretts. A question was also raised over the use for the extra land and whether this would be for gravel washing.
Council officer Louise Askew said engagement with Brett Aggregates was still to take place and due diligence would be carried out.
The option means the council retains the management of part of the Port, such as non-ro-ro traffic, with ro-ro cargo and traffic managed by a third party.
Council chief executive Colin Carmichael and staff will oversee the procurement process and operator contract negotiations with Cabinet members giving final approval.
He said: “The money is available for the first time to make the port work and it would be criminal if we did not take that opportunity.”
Ward councillor Becky Wing and independent councillor Ruth Bailey both asked about costs to the council attached to a ferry operation, such as dredging, staffing, pilot boats and tug assistance. Councillor Tricia Austin said there was concern the plans were now being rushed through just before a local election.
Thanet council, as the port authority would be responsible for maintenance which would be paid for from areas such as port and harbour dues.
Council leader Ash Ashbee said the project was “vitally important” as a “strategically important port for the whole country.”
She added: “When I took over as leader this was always my number one priority, to turn the port around.” She said profit from the venture could then be reinvested into services for the district, adding: “All of our assets have to work for us or they have to go. We have to become more self sufficient. As the years go by it will be more and more necessary for us to do that.”
She said work had been taking place for nearly three years and: “this is not about elections or politics but about the right thing to do.”