Cabinet members at Thanet District Council are to consider a report at their meeting on Thursday 2 March which recommends that the council commences a procurement exercise, calling for expressions of interest in establishing a commercial port operator at the Port of Ramsgate.
The Port of Ramsgate, at 34 acres, is a sizeable asset, operated by Thanet District Council. One of 23 municipal ports in England and Wales, it is currently used by a variety of maritime businesses including an aggregate facility and two offshore wind farm operators.
Since 1998, the council has operated the Port of Ramsgate, which once hosted a daily scheduled cross channel service. However, there has been no commercial ferry operation since 2013 which has contributed to a financial deficit being reported for the port.
In 2021, Thanet District 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. The ambition being to bring more jobs, create more opportunities for training and skills, and to establish it as the ideal base for supporting green industry.
The report being considered by Cabinet is informed by a specialist external consultancy team and port specific legal advice. It outlines market opportunities and describes recent work undertaken to develop options for the port’s future. The options focus on creating a sustainable and financially resilient business model for the Port of Ramsgate, alongside increasing local employment. Achieving this would bring benefits for residents of the entire district, through additional revenue generation.
The options were developed considering the legal requirements the council has as the port and harbour operator, the potential models for management and in consideration of the current set-up at the port with other businesses already there. The recommended option is Option 5, which proposes a multi-purpose hybrid management option for the Port of Ramsgate. The model requires the council to offer part of the port, through a competitive process, on a concession contract with a lease attached to it, rather than hand the reins for the whole of the port land to a third party. Agreements with existing tenants from the aggregates and wind farm sectors would remain in place, with the council, under the recommended option.
In addition, the report covers an interest expressed by an existing tenant to increase their operations at the Port. Negotiations would be conducted on a best value basis, in consideration of the potential financial offer, the operational opportunities at the port and the long term viability this provides to the Port of Ramsgate.
Cllr Ash Ashbee, Leader of Thanet District Council commented:
“Thanet District Council has an exciting window to turn around the fortunes at the Port of Ramsgate, and realise the opportunities the commercial port provides. 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.
“It is currently underutilised and 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.
“One of the biggest hurdles has been the need for improvement works to the infrastructure, to be able to deliver a modern cross channel freight service. The Levelling Up Fund award now means we can undertake the changes needed to unlock new opportunities and propose a competitive process to attract an operator.
“Ultimately, in addition to any potential new crossing or operational model, as our bid for the Levelling Up Fund identified, we must give attention to continuing to ‘diversify our offer’. Since becoming Leader, I prioritised addressing the port’s operational capabilities and this proposal represents the result of that focus.
“We need to look at how we can do more within the available space, to make it more successful. The report that we’ll consider as a Cabinet provides a range of options for our review.”
The full Cabinet report can be viewed on the website.
The existing Port Narrative first published in November 2022 sets out in more detail the scope for this work, including a summary description of the Green Campus.