Published: 17:43, 15 April 2019
| Updated: 17:44, 15 April 2019
Angry residents criticising council executives' plans to continue industrial activities at the Port of Ramsgate are rallying to bring an end to "commercial stupidity".
The Ramsgate Action Group (RAG) is launching a campaign this week and holding a public meeting against commercial developments, which they claim will plunge Thanet into more debt and lead to further service cuts.
Thanet District Council (TDC) is spending £1.5 million on replacing berths capable of processing 3,000 tonnes of aggregate material mainly used by Ashford-based hauliers, Brett Aggregates.
But members of RAG say the proposals will continue to make losses for the port and the council with taxpayers footing the bill and losing important frontline services like bin collections, street cleaning and staff redundancies.
The meeting at the Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Wednesday night will demand TDC officers stop industrialising the port and hand the reigns over to elected councillors to choose the way forward after claiming the plans for the replacement berths had been pushed through in secret.
But in the budget for 2019/20, two items relating to spending at the port were passed while cutting funding after Seaborne Freight failed to deliver a post-Brexit ferry service to Belgium.
The first was the spending to replace berths four and five in the council's capital spending which it says has been council policy since 2016 and was included in agendas for four separate meetings during the budget-setting process.
The second was to approve £40,000 for a feasibility study exploring the options to develop a marina village - a mixed leisure, housing and marina along the waterfront - which is due to be presented by December.
TDC ran a tender for contractors to provide designs, a build contract and a study to explore options of how the berths will appear.
A statement from the council says: "Once the budget has been set the officers have delegated authority to implement the decisions from the budget.
"The tender was for a consultant to draft the specification for works to berths four and five which will be followed by a tender for a design and build contract. Brett Aggregates is not obliged to pay for any repairs but we would seek contributions for enhancements.
"TDC is only replacing what already exists. It does not include the council providing a conveyor which is purely the responsibility of Brett.
"The council has a legal obligation to repair or renew berths four and five – this is contained within the Facilities Agreement with Brett Aggregates.
"Any future works will not be an upgrade of the berth as it is a repair or renew activity which TDC is obliged to carry out as part of the Facilities Agreement it has with Brett Aggregates.
"Activities at the port will be subject to future consideration as part of the options appraisal work which will need to consider TDC’s current legal obligations to Crown Estates and tenants or licensees of the port and harbour."
RAG wants the council to cease pursuing the industrial use of the port and focus on developing a new waterfront at the port and Royal Harbour Marina.
Steve Coombes, chair of RAG, says the group has had enough of the "appalling democratic deficit" and wants the authority to use more common sense for the future use of the port.
The group accuses TDC of "abject commercial failure" in how it has managed the port with the council losing around £10m on keeping the port ready for ferries since 2015.
Mr Coombes adds: "Every pound lost on the port is a pound that TDC can’t spend on its core services like rubbish collection or street cleaning.
"Every pound lost on the port is a pound cut from TDC’s staffing budget and leads to more redundancies like the axing of the Coast Project Manager.
"But every pound spent on the port from the capital programme has to be raised by borrowing or the sale of community assets like toilets or lidos.
"The people of Thanet deserve good, open and transparent local government which takes a common sense approach to commercial activity.
"We just want to see proper, costed proposals for the port and for the council to have a chance to choose the best one.
"So, I suppose, RAG is just asking for an outbreak of reason. Because at the moment, when it comes to business dealings, there is no sanity clause at TDC."
The meeting will take place at Oddfellows Hall, High Street, Ramsgate at 7.30pm on Wednesday (April 17).