In fact according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request I submitted to Thanet Council (TDC), Brett’s Head of Land and Planning, John Bunnett, who was formerly the Deputy Chief Executive of TDC, has been in touch with the council by e-mail and phone on several occasions since Brett withdrew its proposals. These communications indicate that Brett is determined to use its power and influence to ensure it gets what it wants at Ramsgate Port, which is hardly surprising because the stakes are high. Very high indeed for both Brett and the people of Ramsgate and that’s what’s what I want to talk about in this article.
Let’s begin with some history. In July 2014 TDC’s Labour controlled cabinet, which included the then Ramsgate Labour Councillors David and Elizabeth Green, Richard Nicholson Rick Everitt and Mike Harrison, approved the Ramsgate Maritime Plan. The Plan states that Ramsgate “port operates an aggregates facility in partnership with Brett Aggregates” and “There is scope to handle greater volumes (of aggregate) which the commercial port will exploit within the region…we will scope opportunities to grow this business”. There was no public consultation on this plan! With the approval of TDC’s ruling Labour Cabinet, it was developed in secret behind closed doors and only specially selected organisations were invited to participate in the discussions which led to the production of a plan which, in my view, has no democratic legitimacy.
Shortly after the publication of the Maritime Plan the O’Regan Group announced, in December 2014, that it was seeking permission to develop concrete block manufacturing and waste wood re-processing operations at Ramsgate Port. Following 2 well-attended open meetings and a massive public outcry against the environmental impact of O’Regan’s proposals and the damage they could cause to Ramsgate’s tourist economy, Thanet’s ruling Labour Group announced, to everyone’s relief, that it would not be supporting the company’s plans and would only support environmentally sustainable, maritime based, commercial use of Ramsgate port”.
But despite these welcome re-assurances it has now emerged that Thanet’s then ruling Labour group, continued to hypocritically and deceitfully permit high-level discussions about potentially environmentally damaging developments at the port to continue; but with Brett instead of O’Regan. According to my FOI request 2 meetings between TDC and Brett Aggregates took place whilst Labour was still running the council and at precisely the same time that the O’Regan issue was making headlines in the local press. One of the meetings took place on 17 December 2014; the other on 13 March 2015. The FOI says that the meetings discussed the expansion of Brett’s operations at the Port and the possibility of improving the berths in order that Brett could use much larger ships to land bigger quantities of aggregate. Such expansion would, of course, significantly elevate pollution risks to the protected marine areas near to the port and noise and atmospheric pollution for local residents and visitors as well.
But before Labour could be rumbled for cynically misleading people with their lying and deceitful promise of an “environmentally sustainable, maritime based, commercial use of Ramsgate port” the 2015 general and council elections intervened. During the election campaign UKIP’s Parliamentary Candidate Nigel Farage made a big issue of the O’Regan proposals for Ramsgate Port saying to the press “The latest potential development of a construction base at the Port of Ramsgate has already been strongly opposed at a public meeting and has more than 500 signatures from dissatisfied residents since a petition was launched on Friday. He added: “To that idea I simply say - yuck. An eyesore would not bring interest back to the area”. UKIP’s council candidates in Ramsgate also made great play of the O’Regan plans, publically stating their opposition to a damaging industrialization of the port.Yet after virtually annihilating Labour at the polls and taking control of TDC in May 2015, UKIP hypocritically reneged upon their promises to protect Ramsgate Port from inappropriate development. Instead they continued to implement Labour’s massively unpopular and discredited Maritime Plan. In the 12 month period from May 2015 to May 2016 two meetings between Brett Aggregates and TDC were held. As before, the meetings discussed the expansion of Brett’s operations at the Port and the upgrading of the berths to accommodate larger aggregate ships. But it didn’t stop there!
UKIP council leader, Chris Wells, supported by Ramsgate Eastcliff UKIP councillor and Cabinet member with responsibility for the Port, Hunter Stummer-Schmertzing, championed TDCs application for £4million Government funding to support Brett’s plans to expand its operations at the port, by improving the berths and making them accessible to larger ships Although this bid failed, Wells and Stummer-Schmertzing were undeterred and instead used £700,000 of TDCs incredibly tight budget to overhaul and repair berths 3, 4 and 5 and to dredge the port in preparation for larger ships. These works began this autumn and are still continuing. The pretext for spending almost £1million the council can ill-afford, was stated as being “to ensure that the berth is operational in readiness for new cross channel ferry opportunities”. But like Labour before them this is deceitful and misleading smoke-screen which conceals the real truth behind the flurry of activity at the port.
It’s been almost 4 years since the last cross-channel ferry operator, TransEuropa, plied its trade from Ramsgate. They went bust in spectacular fashion in April 2013 owing TDC, as I publically exposed at the time, a massive £3.4million in unpaid fees and charges which had been waived by a top-secret deal approved by the council’s ruling Labour Group and the Tories before them. Since then not a single bona-fide ferry operator has come forward with a serious offer to TDC about running a cross-channel ferry service from Ramsgate. For a report to go to a Council meeting , just two weeks ago, asking for a seriously cash-strapped council to stump up £700,000 it hasn’t got on the speculative possibility that it might just attract “new cross channel ferry opportunities” is, to put it bluntly, taking the piss. The truth is that a cross-channel ferry service is most unlikely to ever return to Ramsgate, which begs the question what is the real purpose of the “urgent” works at the port which, according to a report presented to Council, “must be completed before next spring”. Well I believe that the answer is to be found in Dover rather than a wet dream about the return of P&O, Sealink, or Stenna to Ramsgate.As you may have heard, Dover Harbour Board (DHB) is beginning, next year, a £200million, 3 year construction project, to massively expand its capacity. As part of these plans DHB intends to secure much of the required construction material by dredging 2.5 million cubic metres of aggregate from the Goodwin Sands.
Despite major public opposition to the dredging on the grounds of the huge environmental and archaeological damage it will cause; and ignoring an 11,000 signature petition, DHB submitted an application for a licence to dredge the Goodwins to the Government’s Marine Management Organisation in May 2016. Public consultation on DHBs plans closed on 16 November 2016 and the MMO is expected to approve the licence application before Xmas.Clearly, Brett’s proposals to hugely expand the scale and range of their activities at Ramsgate Port was timed to coincide with the massively lucrative financial opportunities which will be provided by a 3-year 24/7 aggregate dredging and processing programme. Having a large aggregate processing capacity at a port less than 20 miles from Dover would place Brett in a prime position to become DHB’s contractor of choice. Brett, through its marine aggregate division, also has access to modern dredging vessels. But the clincher in exposing Wells and Stummer-Schmertzing’s devious intentions, is that according to “inside information” I have received TDC and DHB have held a number of secret meetings to discuss using Ramsgate Port as an ancillary support site to facilitate the Goodwin Sands dredging programme.
So there we have it! Just like Labour before them, Thanet’s UKIP leadership is deliberately misleading and deceiving residents about its plans for Ramsgate Port. Just like Labour they are determined, despite powerful public opposition, to bulldoze through a massive industrialisation of the port, irrespective of the impact that this would have on Ramsgate’s environment and the local economy.
The noise, the dust, the huge increase in large vehicles transporting processed aggregate from Ramsgate to Dover would greatly increase pollution risks to the protected marine areas near to the port and to Ramsgate’s residents and visitors. A large noisy and dirty aggregate processing plant located on Ramsgate’s seafront would also seriously damage the development of the town’s tourist economy. Just last week an independent report commissioned by Visit Kent estimated that visitor numbers to Thanet had grown last year to over 4 million people and that the district’s visitor economy was worth a staggering £293million per year and provided over 7,000 jobs. Surely it would be a mistake of monumental proportions for the UKIP-led council to support a short-term 3year, polluting, industrial development at the port, which would threaten the growth tourism and would destroy many more jobs than it would create?But thankfully more and more and more people are now beginning to see the light and to recognise that Ramsgate’s economic future is aligned more with tourism and sustainable modern technologies, than an old fashioned industrialised port which has already demonstrated that it is an uncompetitive loss maker which haemorrhages £millons every year. Ramsgate MP, Craig MacKinlay is now calling for a review of the port’s long term future and its redevelopment as a leisure based modern marina. Something I have long been arguing for. Interestingly a number of Ramsgate UKIP councillors have also begun to speak out against their Leader Chris Wells’ insistence on following Labour’s discredited and disgraceful port industrialisation policy. Just a couple of weeks ago UKIP’s Ramsgate Central Harbour councillor, Beverly Martin publically supported leisure use of the port. On the evening of last week’s public about Brett’s plans for the port, UKIP’s Northwood Councillor, Lynda Piper addressed TDCs Cabinet saying that “There seems to be a fundamental difference between the aspirations of the people of Ramsgate and the stated mission of the District Council, regarding the future development of the sea port and thus the town”. And how right she is!
There were packed public meetings and a massive public outcry 2 years ago when O’Regan’s tried to industrialise the port. There have been packed public meetings and a rapidly developing mood of anger now that Brett are trying to do the same thing. But this time it’s different. There is now a strong and powerful cross-party and non-party political unity beginning to emergence and it’s time to for Council listen to the people and the people don’t want Brett at their port!
Here's the film of last week's the meeting