Cabinet discussed the report on the future of the Port of Ramsgate. The Port of Ramsgate was designed and constructed to serve roll on roll of (ro-ro) ferries and is ideally located to offer short sea crossings between the UK and Europe. Since 1998 the Council had operated the Port of Ramsgate, which in the past had hosted a scheduled cross channel service operating on a daily basis. Since April 2013 there had been no scheduled cross channel service impacting on the port’s financial position. There had been much debate and commentary over recent years about the fortunes of the port and its future uses. Councillor Ashbee, Leader of Council was pleased to be bringing this report to Cabinet which aimed to address the underutilisation of the port and recommends actions to attract new business.
The need to diversify the income gained from the Port was not a new concept and much had been done to expand its income streams over the years. The aggregates business had been established at the port for almost 25 years, with the windfarm operations and maintenance bases being established from 2010. There have been successes with ad hoc business too, most notably trade car imports, which have had a positive impact on port income in recent years. It was recognised that to be successful the port must attract resilient businesses delivering stable income streams and employment.
Using specialist port consultants and a specialist external legal team, a review of the post EU Exit market opportunities and options for future port delivery models had been completed. Through this work seven options had been identified for the future operation of the port. At the heart of the report was the recommendation for Cabinet to approve the option to bring in an operator to manage the Roll on Roll off (ro-ro) activities at the port, whilst retaining the management of part of the Port, thus splitting the commercial activity by the type of operation. The Council would retain control of non ro-ro traffic including aggregates, with ro-ro cargo and traffic managed by a third party. This would give the council control over how the port was managed and run, by each of the commercial entities operating from the port, but it would have less risk and responsibility.
A plan had been put together which was annexed to the report which indicates the area required for ro-ro operations and an additional area that could be made available if required by a prospective port operator. This plan of the port built on the zoning work the Council completed and published last year, identifying development sites at the port. The plan annexed to the report provided a clear designation for the ro-ro opportunities, which did not impact negatively on the Levelling Up Funding project to deliver a green campus on the northern part of the port.
The report set out recommendations for the route to procure the new ro-ro business via a multi-stage open process, commencing with expressions of interest from the market. It also described the current aggregates opportunity. Councillor Ashbee proposed amendments to recommendations 3 and 4 to the report, as follows:
The following members spoke under council Procedure Rule 20.1:
Councillor Ashbee proposed, Councillor Pugh seconded and Cabinet agreed:
1. To approve the future model for delivery of the Commercial Port as set out in Option 5, in Section 10 (of the cabinet report);
2. To give delegated authority to the Chief Executive Officer to develop the procurement framework and process to be followed, to secure a port operator in accordance with Section 11 of this report;
3. To give delegated authority to the CEO to conduct an open and competitive tendering process in order to make a recommendation to Cabinet to secure a Port Operator, based on the proposed scoring criteria; following which the CEO is authorised to negotiate and award a concession contract and enter into an accompanying lease, in accordance with Section 11 of this report;
4. To give delegated authority to the CEO to conduct negotiations with the aggregate operator, which will be subject to a best value exercise to ensure the agreed proposals add value to the Port of Ramsgate, the Council, and its communities. Negotiations will also cover any requirements in terms of formal approvals required being achievable for the expansion. The agreed proposals will be recommended by the CEO to Cabinet for approval. Following this, the CEO is authorised to enter into a subsequent contractual agreement with an accompanying new (or revised existing) lease with the aggregate operator.