Thanet council leader Rick Everitt: Ferry proposals for Ramsgate Port are far from ‘pie in the sky’

Rick Everitt at the Ramsgate Levelling Up session held last year

Politicians from different parties don’t always disagree, however it might appear to residents.

As leader of Thanet District Council from 2019-21, I was briefed on the multiple approaches we received from commercial operators interested in using Ramsgate Port for cargo movements. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the necessary post-Brexit border facilities in place or the seven-figure sum required to bring some of the key infrastructure back into use.

But an opportunity to do just that, along with other major investment in the port and harbour, arrived in 2021 with the government’s levelling-up funding programme.

By the time the bid put together for Ramsgate under the Labour administration had been successful, the Conservatives had regained minority control of the council. But my successor as leader, Ash Ashbee, had much the same experience of third-party interest in the port.

That was backed up by expert industry advice.

With a levelling-up award of £3.5m to make the necessary improvements, alongside £6.1m for a green campus on the site, her cabinet was able to kick off the process of looking for a commercial operator to run the port, which took place in June this year.

Cllr Ashbee said in February: “This is a massive opportunity for the district. The port is a national asset and we have a responsibility to ensure that we utilise it to its full potential… In the last decade the landscape has shifted, with changes in the short sea ferry market following the UK’s exit from the EU, as well as increases in fuel and the cost of living crisis.”

Labour agreed. Oddly, though, when the election campaign got under way, it became clear the local Tories had two different positions on the port. One was their council leadership’s clear and continuing support, and then there was the view articulated on their candidates’ leaflets in Ramsgate, which stated that the party would support a ferry service only “if the deal was the right one” and otherwise “must look at a longer-term marina village”.

It is a measure of the state of the local Tories that when I showed Cllr Ashbee the leaflet in mid-April, she told me that it was the first time she had seen what her party was saying in Ramsgate. Neither of us believed that a “marina village” was anything but a fantasy.

Looking at the future of Ramsgate Port

Five months on, local MP Craig Mackinlay has published a column this week in which he announces: “I must say at this point that hoping for a ferry, however nominally desirable, is becoming ‘pie in the sky’”.

This was news to me, as leader again since May, and I know to the council officers whose initial market testing exercise attracted multiple significant approaches from major operators and who are now preparing to launch the formal tender process in October.

Indeed, it’s a surprising conclusion from the MP, who received a personal progress report on the Ramsgate levelling-up projects at the council offices as recently as August 31st.

It is inevitable – given the failure of TransEuropa in 2013, the multiple unfulfilled claims by Euroferries that they would operate from Ramsgate and the government’s own hapless £13.8m contract award in 2018 to Seaborne Ferries, who famously had no ships – that public scepticism will remain high until a service actually begins.

What is frustrating, however, is that someone well-placed to know better should fuel that doubt and do so without even having the courtesy of a discussion about it with the council, which owns the port and is the decision-making body. There is a risk the tender process and the substantial work done to date is being undermined by nothing more than speculation.

Craig Mackinlay says that he is “looking at more exciting job creation opportunities around the ‘green hub’ proposal” and hopes “to bring together a new consortium, with even more funding to put on the table to put to the Thanet levelling up board”.

Ramsgate Port Photo John Horton

To be clear, both my mind and my door remain open. The council will listen to any credible business cases, especially around the green campus, but the combined Margate and Ramsgate board on which the two Thanet MPs sit going forward has no authority to make decisions. It is there to ask questions, challenge over progress and advise.

The council is the “responsible body” and it would have to agree any significant changes through its own processes, and then separately with the government.

In this case, we don’t even know what the MP is proposing, or whether he has the support of his own party’s front bench at TDC this time around.

In the meantime, we are as confident as we can be that a ferry service will return to Ramsgate in the next year or so. The arrangements being put in place protect local taxpayers from financial risk because the council will not be operating the port itself.

Far from being “pie in the sky”, we believe this is the right mixed-use solution for the site and that it will be a key component in Ramsgate’s regeneration, along with the substantial investment in the harbour and elsewhere. A ferry service can once again generate critical funding to provide improved local services, as it did in the past.

Time will tell, but one thing is for sure. The moment the dock appears in view on the horizon after a long voyage is no time to try to change course – particularly without letting the captain know first.

26 Comments

  1. Well of course Mackinlay will be opposed to a ferry operator from Ramsgate, it will nobble his plans to re-open Manston as a cargo hub won’t it? Don’t forget he also has an aviation company, at least on paper! What TDC do with Ramsgate Harbour, is nothing to do with Mackinlay, so he should keep out of it!

  2. Would this mean e very two or so weeks when the tunnel is closed that lorrys will be going passed the cafes etc at the harbour ?

    Not a good look. I have never known a tunnel with so little use need so much maintenance

  3. Well Red Leader,
    I agree MP Mack has as much expertese on Ferry’s as he does cargo aircraft, none at all! So his suggestion that he can put more on the table for the LU projects is laughable but, probably has an agenda, namely all this money floating around needs a good home. What better place than Mack’s bank account.
    However, Rick, you tell us that there are lot’s of ferry companies ready to bid for the work, really! I wouldn’t expect you to name any of them at this stage of a tendering process but you could tell us what kind of ferry service you are looking at, cargo, passenger, London Waste ferrying crap to us or from us, mature trees for the Discovery Park biofuel site that destroys ancient woodlands and eco systems from Canada to Latvia, or what?!
    Public confidence in a ferry operation is at an all time low, you’re correct there so please give us, just a bit more detail, so we can believe you have a plan, a cunning plan worthy of a fox who’s qualified at “Cunning Uni”.
    A plan that addresses the silting and dredging need, the ferry shallow draught requirement, the overbearing customs, technical and safety requirements forced on the UK by its Brexit decision, the lack of infrastructure at the port, the frequent tunnel closures and total unsuitablility of using the Military Road into the Town for HGV and other traffic?
    Ramsgate already had massive traffic non-complaince with road rules and no enforcement officers to address this. And you want to add to that?
    Where’s the plan Red Leader – over…..

    • Jenny have you forgotten the vile Live Animal Exports trade that used Ramsgate Harbour, because it was a flat bottomed ex Russian fresh water lake ferry? Can we get an assurance this evil trade won’t be allowed to operate from Ramsgate again?

    • I have never mentioned this before here, but Jenny have you forgotten the vile Live Animal Exports trade that used Ramsgate Harbour, because it was a flat bottomed ex Russian fresh water lake ferry? Can we get an assurance this evil trade won’t be allowed to operate from Ramsgate again?

      • Dumpton I haven’t forgotten the live exports. I just never imagined the LU project would bring it back! Naive of me, especially given my piratical life on the seas.

        I agree, we need assurance that live animals (except for the human kind) will not be re-started.

  4. Dear Rick,
    I would take offers to run ferry services with a pinch of salt.
    Ramsgate port was and has been a project in need of a purpose.I doubt very much if the original capital expended on the port has been repaid.The tunnel continues to be an obstruction and an issue to the free flow of any traffic.
    In my view the best thing would be a lease to Dover, who with Govt backing could use Ramsgate as a relief port when Dover is congested.Only the smaller ferries can be used if at all, so a seasonal charter of a ferry, if one is available, could be a solution.
    If a wholly commercial service were viable it would happen, but the ‘no ferry, ferry’ farce, did turn Ramsgate into a laughing stock,thanks to farcical bungling by TDC.
    With all the best wishes in the world, local govt officers with no experience of sea faring or commercial shipping experience,are hardly in a position to judge what is possible.
    The Royal Harbour is another matter,it should be detached from the port and allowed to be managed locally, so that maritime leisure activities and commercial fishing get the investment they deserve, freed from the constraints of TDC.

    • As opposed to the current no jam tomorrow or only jam if you are in the top 10% of earners.
      There are none so blind that will not see a different future than what is offered by ‘Inaction man’ and his bungling minions.

      • Don’t get me wrong. I’m firmly of the view that the Tories have been in power for too long and need ousting

        I don’t, however, think the alternative will be much better. A different type of incompetence perhaps.

  5. It’s bad enough when a local MP does little or nothing for his constituency. Ours goes one further … he actively campaigns and briefs against us.

    Thanet is home to one of the largest wind farms in the world, with two of the major players in the sector – Vattenfall and London Array (Orsted) also having offices in Ramsgate and providing employment locally. Any other MP would be talking about this with pride and doing all they can to support the growth of these vital, future-facing industries on our own doorstep. Not Craig. He spends most of his time on Twitter and in Parliament trash-talking the renewables industry and spewing out bogus misinformation about wind power in particular. What a disgrace.

    Meanwhile, the Levelling Up Funds secured after Rick and the previous Labour leadership wisely chose to launch a bid in the first round with the Ramsgate Futures programme includes funding for a green tech/renewables innovation hub.

    So why does Craig talk down Ramsgate’s planned green hub and scoff at the renewables industry? Does he seriously expect us to believe that as climate change denier in chief and chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and FairFuel APG he’s going to “bring together a new consortium” for the green energy hub?

    Our MP is actively working against the best interests of his own constituency in his constant search for national recognition and notoriety in the lunatic fringes of the Tory party.

    Pro Tip for Craig: there are some roles and functions in life where it’s best to keep your recognition local rather than national. This includes the role of village idiot.

    • I did wonder about the wind farm companies, were they consulted about the LU projects? Could the port money have been used to support their expansion, such as green tech in the proposed green hub?
      The recent TDC crane shed consultation show had no answers to my questions on this.
      And no one mentions Brett! Where does their operation fit into all this? They pay very little for their site while tax money repairs their infrastructure, local money fixes the damage done by their trucks as they career along Military Road and the issues caused by their dust is swept under our communal carpet.

    • Don’t forget Craig talking up Brexit Jason, the only benefit of which I heard him once say on national TV was removing VAT from ladies hygiene products, Duurh!

  6. The only passengers likely t travel from RAMSgate are sheep, bring on a marina village, it will bring in more tourist than the odd ferry, three times a day, not. A lot of profit t for a ferry company there

  7. Since we now have duty free back between us and europe , theres money to be made by a ferry
    service between us and either france or belgium , also they need to take footpassengers as none of the Dover operators do ( only cyclists) , only Newhaven – Dieppe does !

  8. A ferry will bring far more money to the area and create many more sustainable jobs than the multiple times failed airfield ever will.

  9. It was labour who closed the port and cost us over 6m in compensation in a secret court case Rick

    Rick it was labour who let transeuropa run free and cost us at least 5m..you make debts Rick

    Pie in the sky no fingers in pies at taxpayers expense no more money mate yer skint and need section 114.. Port debt runs into over £20m..

    • Reb, That’s severe! I don’t suppose you have links to evidence for the figures, I’m interested in knowing more.
      One reason is the proposal that a new financial model will allow TDC to move up to £5mill between LU fund pots without consultation. That “flexibility” will allow all kinds of fraud or creative accounting. Given your figures it suggests we can’t trust Rick with this.

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