Thanet council is seeking expressions of interest from commercial port operators to operate a substantial part of the Port of Ramsgate, including two roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) berths.
The move follows a decision made by the council in March to start a procurement exercise aimed at finding an operator to being ferry services back to the port.
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.
In March councillors were told that over recent years interest has been expressed by ferry operators, EU ports and haulage companies for cross-channel operations at Ramsgate but this has been hampered by the need to pay for improved facilities.
A report added: “Previously, Ramsgate lost out on ro-ro opportunities because private sector owned ports were able to invest in the required infrastructure, whilst the council was not in a position to do so.
“The challenge of a lack of capital funding is now resolved by the Levelling Up Fund grant award. Updating key port infrastructure at Ramsgate will constitute a step change in the attractiveness of Ramsgate to host a new cross channel service and will unlock new opportunities with potential operators.”
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 an 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. Agreements with Brett Aggregrates and wind farm operators would remain in place.
The option means the council retaining the management of part of the Port, such as non-ro-ro traffic, with ro-ro cargo and traffic managed by a third party.
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..
Council leader Rick Everitt said: “The Port of Ramsgate is a major asset for Thanet, with particular significance for the town itself and national importance too. It has huge untapped potential, in terms of employment and training opportunities for local people and the wider development of the district through new investment.
“The Levelling Up Fund award means that we can now forge ahead with the structural changes necessary to attract a cross-channel freight operator which were previously unviable. Our ambition is to establish the Port as a base for supporting green industry.”
A PIN notice says the council aims to “undertake a procurement process to attract and secure a port operator for two primary roll on/roll off (ro-ro) berths at the Port of Ramsgate and associated port side land by way of a services concession.
“This PIN is not a call for competition and is published with the intention of facilitating engagement with the market prior to the commencement of a procurement process.”
A ‘port narrative’ published last November says: “The objective of reestablishing a cross channel RoRo operation is to create jobs at Ramsgate and ease the significant risks for UK PLC when moving freight to and from the continent.
“A service from Ramsgate will offer an alternative route to the logistics sector and importantly, will create local jobs. A new cross channel service will make the port more sustainable in the long term – for the council and for the district.
“The plan is to allocate 48% of the site for RoRo operations. 22% is already allocated to existing port related businesses, and a further 5% will be retained for shared site access within the port estate.
“This creates potential for the remaining 25% to be released for new maritime related opportunities, including the Green Campus site. This remaining space at the Port should be used to help support the economic regeneration and growth needed in Ramsgate.”
It adds that Ramsgate provides a significant opportunity within the short sea crossing market to accommodate unaccompanied freight.
Expressions of interest can be submitted until July 7.
The Port of Ramsgate was opened in 1981 with Sally Line operating services between Ramsgate and Dunkerque. Between 1993 and 1998 there was also a service to Ostend but this was moved to Dover and the Sally ceased operations in 1998 with the ending of duty free concessions.
TransEuropa Ferries was brought in but went bankrupt in 2013.
Between 2000 to 2011 the port made surpluses ranging between £50,000 to £850,000 per annum, but from 2012 onwards substantial losses have been recorded amounting to more than £25m.
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