According to Thanet Council’s externally audited accounts, Ramsgate Port has, over the past seven years, racked up operating losses of £17.6 million. That’s the equivalent of £126 for every man, woman and child living in Thanet.
The message couldn’t be clearer – the massive losses and the failure of a new operator to come forward to resume cross-channel ferry services following the collapse of Trans Europa 4 years ago means that Ramsgate port, just like Manston Airport, is finished! It is commercially unsustainable and has no future in its current form.
Had it been in the private sector, a financial performance as
disastrous as this would have led to the closure of the port years ago. Yet senior officers and successive Conservative, Labour and UKIP political administrations at Thanet Council appear to have been in total denial of the harsh economic facts revealed by their own accounts. They have buried their heads in the sand and, in the opinion of many, irresponsibly continued to waste £millions of taxpayers money keeping open a ghost port with virtually no ships.
Official council figures show that last year only 165 ships berthed at Ramsgate that’s an average of three ships a weeks. Nine of these ships were part of the car delivery contract with GEFCO which has now ended. Sixteen of these ships were for the cruel live animal export trade which will probably end soon too.
These appalling figures are hardly surprising bearing in mind
the fierce competition from nearby Dover, which is now beginning a £200million, three-year, expansion and modernisation programme and the highly successful, state-of-the-art, London Gateway Port less than 70 miles away. It wouldn’t surprise me if next year the number of ships berthing at Ramsgate fell below 100, proving what most of us already know – that Ramsgate port is a ghost port in terminal decline.
This is why Thanet Council should face up to reality and begin the urgent task of reviewing the future of Ramsgate Port and deciding what would be the best uses for this important piece of publically owned land. The last time this was done was in 2014 when TDC’s then ruling Labour Group drew up, in secrecy and without any public consultation whatsoever, the Ramsgate Maritime Plan which proposed the wholesale industrialisation of the port, especially the expansion of the aggregate business at the port.
This time around there should be a serious programme of extensive public engagement and consultation about the future of the port . Unlike Labour’s secretive and biased 2014 Maritime Plan, the views of Ramsgate residents should be accorded top priority, instead of being relegated to insignificance in favour party political dogma and the narrow commercial interests of those who may benefit from an industrialised port, such as the aggregate trade.
Because whenever the public have been allowed to express
their views about the future of the port, such as the public meetings to oppose the O’Regan plans to develop a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood recycling operation at the port in 2015, or more recently Brett Aggregates proposals to expand their activities, the overwhelming view of local residents is opposed to the industrialisation of the port.
Many people at these packed public meetings expressed
their concerns about the impact of an industrialised, dirty and polluting port upon the nearby marine protected nature areas and the danger posed to air quality for people living in Ramsgate. Others were very concerned about the impact of a heavily industrialised port upon Ramsgate’s seafront and the historic Royal Harbour and how this could damage the recovery of the town’s tourist industry. Most people, including Thanet South MP, Craig MacKinlay expressed the view that allowing for the existing fishing the windfarm and ship repair operations, the future of Ramsgate Port should be leisure focused rather than industrial. A view which is supported by the fact that over the past 7 years Ramsgate Royal Harbour has made profits of £2,172 million which clearly demonstrates that the economic future of Ramsgate Port and Ramsgate seafront should be based upon tourism and leisure rather than the dirty and polluting industrialisation which has been unashamedly promoted by successive Conservative, Labour and UKIP controlled administrations at Thanet Council.
Sadly this fixation with industrialisation continues apace with UKIP Council Leader Chris Wells and Director of Operational Service Gavin Waite investing almost £2.5 million last year in upgrading and modernising the berths, dredging the port and employing a “shipping industry expert” in the forlorn hope of attracting new ferry operators to the port.
The duo also unsuccessfully tried to secure a £4million government grant to upgrade port facilities and expand its traffic handling capacity up to 1 million heavy goods vehicles a year. Something which would hardly be good for air pollution in Ramsgate and the promotion public health. Astonishingly these hugely polluting HGV plans were not opposed by the Conservative and Labour oppositions at Thanet Council. Why? Because on the basis of their shameful track record on the port, they probably supported the 1 million HGVs!
Even more worrying, if my many and reliable sources at Thanet Council are to be believed, is that secretive plans are allegedly being drawn about the possibility of developing a major waste processing and transfer facility at the Port of Ramsgate. A subject which I will be writing more about shortly.
The long-standing culture of secrecy surrounding the management of Ramsgate port and the Royal Harbour, and the total exclusion of the public from this process is, in my opinion, an insult to democracy which speaks volumes about the controlling, top-down, approach of council bureaucrats and their Conservative, Labour and UKIP political bosses. I have long argued that the Port of Ramsgate and the Royal Harbour should be managed by a Harbour Board made up of Ramsgate councillors and independent residents which meets in public, which publishes all its reports, and which consults with local people on its business plans and strategies. This is exactly what has been happening in Whitstable for the past 14 years. So why not Ramsgate? What do the powers that be have to hide?