Many of us living in Ramsgate would like to see our port being put to better use than it is at the moment. A new report for Thanet District Council – commissioned by the previous administration from London-based consultants, WSP – suggests some alternative uses.
That the authors of this high-level feasibility study seem unable to distinguish between the plural and possessive form of words hardly fills the reader with confidence. Perhaps a fraction of the £40,000 they were paid by the cash-strapped council could have been used to enlist someone to proofread the document and unravel some of the acronyms. Setting this aside, let’s look at some of WSP’s proposals for Ramsgate Port.
Referring to the draft local plan, WSP consider residential, leisure and commercial options before showing us what Bunk Moreland in The Wire called the ‘fat finger’ and recommending a combination of the above.
The residential aspect of the plan refers to executive homes that would be beyond the reach of most of us. The leisure scoping includes a holiday resort and film studio, both of which disappear at shortlisting stage. The preferred mixed-use development is treated as synonymous with a maritime village, which sounds eerily similar to the luxury marina development beloved by Craig Mackinlay and co.
Since the May elections, the two most progressive steps Thanet District Council has taken have been to declare an intention to become carbon neutral by 2030 and to begin considering how wealth might be created and retained in the local economy. Any decisions taken by the council should be measured against these policy goals by asking two questions:
- How will this affect the environment?
- How will this benefit the local economy?
Conspicuous by its absence from the list of seven policy documents studied by WSP in compiling this report is Port of Ramsgate Low Carbon Plan Strategy. Conducted in early 2014, this study found that the 67-hectare site had annual electricity running costs in the region of £250,000. Among other ideas for energy saving and generation, the strategy proposed that ‘The existing infrastructure has the potential to create electricity in much the same way as a hydrodam. Since the current structure was originally designed to create high volume discharges of water for dredging, turbines could be installed within one or more of the existing outfall sluice tunnels to generate electricity’. But consideration of how the port might be powered and how the wider environment might be affected by WSP’s proposals is absent from the feasibility study.
One of the three objectives underlying the WSP report is to ‘Deploy limited capital resources as a catalyst for private sector investment in the Port, town and wider region.’ This translates as ‘use an amount of public money in an attempt to attract a private company to build here’. Public subsidy of the private sector has been discredited in many quarters. We need to ask ourselves: What kind of private investment is being referred to here, and where will the profits end up?
WSP’s commercial shortlist involves scaled-down continued use of roll-on, roll-off ferries, along with repair, maintenance and storage facilities. A complementary industrial zone is mooted that would see the growth of design, 3D printing and the wider creative industries.
This represents a heartbreaking waste of opportunity. In Preston, unemployment has fallen from 6.5% to 3.1% in just a few years. The city council has helped to achieve this by looking at local need and thinking about how this might be met locally. An example sometimes given is the contract for school meals being divided between different local food suppliers.
Thanet District Council has not yet fully assessed our local need. Had it done so and established a pressing need for designers and 3D printing, then great. Somehow, I suspect that our need will be more prosaic, and local companies and cooperatives should be helped to fulfil it. Ramsgate Port would provide an ideal site for this.
The WSP report is a relic of the late twentieth century, devised with little regard to the impending climate catastrophe and sold on the vague promise of increased jobs, tourism, resident numbers and prosperity.
There is little indication of the kind of jobs that would be created by this scheme or whether local people have the skills to take them up. In the case of the hotel and conference centre envisaged for the Home for Smack Boys, this would likely be low-paid, seasonal work. In the case of servicing offshore wind farms, our chance of green apprenticeships dwindled with the prospect of a Labour government. Similarly, any increased population is considered only in terms of its benefits when our public services are bursting at the seams.
When devising options for the port, WSP admit to having followed the Treasury Green Book. Framed largely in economic terms, this contains little scope for thinking about how developments might benefit local communities. By contrast, the Public Services (Social Value) Act of 2012 requires public authorities to consider not only economic but also social and environmental wellbeing in public services contracts. A twenty-first century vision for Ramsgate Port must ensure that prosperity is shared throughout our community at no cost to our environment.