Almost 2 years ago TransEuropa Ferries went bust owing Thanet Council £3.4 miillion. After weeks of demanding answers from the notoriously secretive Council I eventually found out that this staggering mountain of debt was allowed to build up over a 3 year period because the Council’s Labour (and previously Conservative) political bosses had agreed a secret deal with TransEuropa Ferries allowing them to use the Port of Ramsgate without having to pay any fees.
The Council said it would try its best to find a new operator to replace TransEuropa but 2 years later there’s no sign of a ferry service. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Dover Harbour is currently undergoing a major £120million investment progamme which will improve existing facilities and massively expand its ferry and cruise liner capacity. Further north the Thames Gateway freight terminal recently opened for business. It has massive freight handling capacity and is much nearer to customers than
Ramsgate. It’s clear that there is no way that Ramsgate Port can successfully compete against these neighbouring maritime giants. That’s why 2 years on from the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries no replacement operator has come forward and the only activity at the Port are a few small ships unloading aggregates for the Bretts concrete plant and of course the notorious Joline Ship of Death plying its barbarically cruel live animal export trade to Europe.
To keep the port open costs Council Tax payers over £1.5 million every year, with virtually no income to offset this astronomic cost I’m inclined to think that the time has now to come to close down the Port and use this money for more important things such as building desperately needed social housing. However I’m not suggesting that by closing the port we turn our back on Ramsgate’s historic maritime tradition. I strongly believe that with imagination and vision Ramsgate Port could be transformed into a driving force behind the future regeneration the town. With the right ideas and a good business plan, it could create hundreds of new jobs and business opportunities and inject £millions into the local economy But as we all know Thanet Council and its Labour and Conservative politicians are desperately short of imagination and vision.
Just after TransEuropa went bust, the Council began work on the Ramsgate Maritime Plan which was supposed to be a blueprint for a brave new future for the Port. But the development of the plan was flawed. Instead of having a well-publicised public consultation about the future of the port and allowing residents the opportunity to put forward ideas and suggestions, Thanet Council chose instead to consult with small handpicked groups behind closed doors. No effort appears to have been made to look at what other councils had done to rejuvenate their ailing ports. No effort appears to have made to secure the services of experts in seafront and port regeneration who could have shared their knowledge, expertise, experience with the Council. No work was done on developing a properly costed budget for improving and developing the port and no work carried out about how funding could be secured to pay for new development at the Port. To be frank, the development of the Ramsgate Maritime Plan was a wasted opportunity and the published report was an expensive waste of time which totally ignored the competitive world in which the port operates, sticking instead with old-fashioned ideas who’s days were long over. This probably explains why the Council’s best suggestion for the port is to allow the O’Regan Group’s to set up a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing facility, despite the concerns of many residents who are worried about the pollution risk of industrialising the port site.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. If the ferry and freight business are no longer a sustainable option for Ramsgate Port then surely it’s time to look for new markets and products which might turn a profit. And what better option than transforming the Port into a leisure focused marina which could be incorporated into the Royal Harbour. Marinas have been operating very successfully for many years at Eastbourne, and Brighton. They have created hundreds of jobs and business opportunities for local people. Ramsgate has several advantages which would help a marina to succeed. First it’s much nearer to Europe than Eastbourne and Brighton and is therefore likely to attract more continental visitors. Second, unlike Eastbourne and Brighton the marina would be located right next to Ramsgate town centre meaning that visitors would spend money in local bars, cafes, restaurants and businesses. Third Ramsgate is a gateway to the beautiful Kent countryside with Canterbury and Sandwich in easy reach and just over an hour to London by train. Fourth we have the world-class Turner Contemporary on Ramsgate’s doorstep and soon Dreamland, with Thanet’s fabulous beaches thrown in for good measure.
I believe there is a powerful case to close Ramsgate Port, and in conjunction with the Royal Harbour transform it into a modern, state of the art, environmentally friendly marina. This is an idea that a Green Party led Council would explore. We would set up a working group which would include local people, businesses and industry experts to develop ideas, draw up plans and budgets for a modern marina in Ramsgate. We would consult fully with residents about the plans and we would secure funding through Council borrowing and developing partnerships with the private sector to pay for this transformative development. Without a bold and imaginative plan for the Port of Ramsgate it will gradually deteriorate and decline haemorrhaging £millions of taxpayers money in the process. It’s time to be brave and seize the opportunity