Plans revealed to turn Ramsgate and Manston Airport into freeport zone

Ambitious proposals to turn Ramsgate harbour into a freeport have been unveiled - but supporters calling for the reopening of Manston Airport are unlikely to embrace the plans.

A London-based marketing consultancy has put forward the idea which would see the port revitalised and linked to the airport site by extending the existing road tunnel at the harbour.

The Port of Ramsgate has lost millions of pounds over the last decade - but could a freeport reverse its fortunes?
The Port of Ramsgate has lost millions of pounds over the last decade - but could a freeport reverse its fortunes?

But the plan would not see flights resume at Manston.

Instead, the airfield would become an industrial and technology park, part of a 'free zone' which would facilitate services at the port, with the area benefitting from a host of government perks - key to which being no duty paid on goods until they enter the full UK market - and none at all paid if they are re-exported from the port.

Explains Stan Vines, chief of Information for Contracts (i4c), which is behind the proposal: "The overall plan provides a vision which merges modern technology with tradition in one of the most important and significant commercial and marine centres of the past.

“Thousands of jobs will be created at the ‘free zone technology park’ and through the port expansion and many more with the development of substantial retail, residential and leisure facilities.

"The new and unique traffic segregation scheme will continue to keep commercial vehicles away from the town but will enable and encourage access to local facilities for leisure and tourist traffic from incoming ferries."

How the Port of Ramsgate could look under the proposals
How the Port of Ramsgate could look under the proposals

However, he admits he has not approached either of Thanet's two Conservative MPs about the project - North Thanet's Sir Roger Gale and South Thanet's Craig Mackinlay - Thanet District Council, which owns the port, or RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) which owns Manston.

In addition, the proposal will be torpedoed if the long-awaited decision by the government on Manston's future sees transport ministers approve the resumption of flights - paving the way for RSP to push ahead with plans to operate it as a cargo airport. A decision on that is due by July 10.

Mr Vines says his proposal is backed by London-based architects ORMS and the Crawford Partnership, consulting engineers Tony Gee and Partners and law firm Temple Bright.

He added: "My decision was that we would not tell anybody until we put the scheme together and presented it."

He adds the move would regenerate Thanet while the refurbishment and upgrade of the existing port will be the first phase in "dual purpose development" to also create additional Channel port capacity in readiness for the UK exit from the European Union on December 31.

The Manston Airport site would be part of the plans - but not for flights
The Manston Airport site would be part of the plans - but not for flights

Mr Vines added: "There have been other schemes submitted for the regeneration of Ramsgate and the region but none as comprehensive as this with the unique inclusion of Manston in the application for freeport status.

"With a fair wind I think we could do an upgrade at the port, and create a parking facility in preparation for a freeport zone, around Manston, before December 31. I know it's ambitious but I think it can be done.

"I don't think RiverOak will get the decision to reopen. I think there's also enough opposition to its plans for people to be open to alternatives."

The Port of Ramsgate has had a troubled past in recent years, with the council admitting it has lost millions each year on the site, as the once busy cross-Channel port has seen its use dwindle.

Earlier this year, proposals were put forward for a range of options of how to breathe new life into the port - one of which included a Center Parc-style holiday resort.

Craig Mackinlay believes the port would be better transformed into a marina village
Craig Mackinlay believes the port would be better transformed into a marina village

A change in use is one supported by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay who said the freeport proposal was one that was unlikely to gather momentum.

He said: "The problem with Ramsgate is that we've all tried for many years to get interest in shipping - whether commercial or roll-on roll-off ferries. The world knows, and has known for many years, that Ramsgate is there and no one has been coming.

"So I have very publicly said over the years said it's time to turn the page. It's pretty small but it does occupy a very attractive coastal location which may have better uses as a marina village, some hotels and some housing which many parts of the county would give their right arm for.

"I just don't think as a port it's ever going to happen. And for the freeport idea it would never be big enough.

"As much as I'd love to have that type of investment, I think we have to have a reality check. I don't think it would fit the bill for what the government's looking for as a freeport."

Stan Vines is proposing the freeport for Ramsgate idea
Stan Vines is proposing the freeport for Ramsgate idea

There was briefly hope it could act as a back-up ferry port in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, with the government signing a controversial deal with Seaborne Ferries to provides a service between Thanet and Ostend in Belgium. But that fell apart amid huge criticism when it became clear Seaborne did not own any ferries.

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