Founded in 1921, the Ramsgate Rotary Club hosted the 15th Ramsgate Ferry Roadshow at the Pegwell Bay Hotel .
To a distinguished audience David Foley, Chief Executive of the Thanet & East Kent Chamber of Commerce, outlined the key role the Port of Ramsgate could play in attracting inward investment and reducing youth unemployment in Thanet which is currently the highest in South East England.
Dr Bill Moses MBE gave a detailed account of how the revival of a cross-channel passenger ferry service from Ramsgate could inject £6 million into the local economy and create over 300 direct jobs plus many more among suppliers, retailers and in the tourism sector.
As Chairman of Ramsgate Ferry, Dr Moses draws on 40 years of experience in the maritime industry, much of that spent in charge of commercially successful port and shipping operations in the UK and overseas. His recent visits to channel ports in Calais, Boulogne-Sur-Mer, Dunkerque and Ostend have revealed a strong appetite for a ferry service from Ramsgate. Dr Moses and his team have prepared detailed plans to accommodate a series of options for a RoPax (Roll-on Roll-off Passenger) service. He quoted the healthy surpluses and profit margins obtained by the owners of other ports in the UK and concluded that Thanet District Council, the owners and managers of the Port of Ramsgate, had manifestly failed. The huge losses incurred in recent years rather proved the case that after the TransEuropa ferries debacle and many other instances of mismanagement, it was not in the public interest for the current distinctly unhealthy state of affairs at the port to continue.
Dr Moses traced the history of RoPax to its origins in Dover in July 1953 as an experimental innovation. Despite the reportedly unpromising potential voiced at the time and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, the trend in RoPax traffic is decidedly upwards. He noted that last year over 13 million passengers passed through the Port of Dover, as did over 2.5 million lorries and nearly as many cars. He also recalled the widespread disruption to residents and companies alike whenever there is a blockage at Dover, which was illustrated all too vividly last year during Operation Stack.
The announcement in July 2016 by the Department of Transport of a lorry park to be built at Stanford West off the M20 to provide spaces for 3,600 lorries was described by Dr Moses as “a political solution”. He explained that: “It sounds attractive but will not do much to relieve congestion as many more than that number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) pass through Dover on an average day”.
The closure of short sea ferry services from Sheerness, Dartford, Ramsgate and Folkestone has left East Kent and indeed the whole of the UK vulnerable to problems at Dover. With HGV traffic destined to increase further, there is a strategic need to consider opening an additional ferry port to accommodate the growth and relieve some of the pressure at Dover.
Dr Moses illuminated his presentation throughout with examples of his evidence base. He also showed some illustrations of proposals commissioned by Ramsgate Ferry from top designers to give passengers an attractive retail environment both in the port and on board during the crossing.
Dr Moses said that with goodwill on all sides, a service could begin in Easter 2018. As for obstacles to change, Thanet District Council has yet to enter a serious dialogue about reversing its losses and cooperating with Ramsgate Ferry. Dr Moses has raised the issue countless times over the last five years with a succession of officers and cabinet members. Any proposals are usually greeted with a response along the lines that the council cannot engage in any meaningful dialogue as discussions with a prospective operator were on-going.
Dr Moses reminded the audience that Ramsgate Ferry is a not-for-profit organisation that simply wishes to promote a revived ferry service from Ramsgate. A delegation from Ostend is due to arrive shortly for a meeting with Dr Moses and his team. Following the positive feedback last month from the presentation to travel and tourism professionals held at The Dorchester in London, further Ramsgate Ferry road shows are planned in the UK and at other cross-channel ports over the next six months.