No-deal Brexit ferry port plans threatened by vote on budget cuts

Plans to reopen a ferry port in the event of a no-deal Brexit could be disrupted if councillors approve a string of budget cuts.

The Government handed Seaborne Freight a £13.8 million contract to run a service from Ramsgate, Kent, to Ostend, in Belgium, to alleviate anticipated delays and queues at the Port of Dover. Discussions are ongoing as to how this will work.

But Thanet District Council, which owns and operates Ramsgate Ferry Port, is proposing funding cuts which could make running such services impossible.

The authority has been financing the port to keep it ready for ferry services and says if “arrangements” are not finalised, it will be “required” to make the cuts.

Councillors are to decide whether to make savings of £730,000 over the next year when they vote on the budget on Thursday evening.

The Department for Transport said it continues to have “conversations” with the council, among other organisations, “over any plans to re-establish ferry services at the Port of Ramsgate”.

Officials hope extra ferries from the port – which last ran a regular ferry service to Europe in 2013 – would help cut down delays in Dover if more border checks on goods and passengers are imposed.

Using this service would also send traffic away from the M20 which could be used as an emergency lorry park if there is a backlog of queues to Dover.

The Seaborne Freight contract came under fire after it emerged the company has never run a ferry service before and part of its website terms and conditions appeared to have been copied from a takeaway restaurant.

The mayor of Ostend said it would be impossible to have a new service up and running by the end of March, although it is believed Seaborne has paid to have Ramsgate harbour dredged so that it can use larger ships, according to the BBC.

Previously, Conservative Thanet district councillor Beverly Martin reportedly said the harbour “cannot be ready” for Brexit on March 29.

A council spokeswoman said: “Thanet District Council is due to approve its proposed budget for 2019-20 at a full council meeting tonight.

“In order to meet its statutory obligations to deliver a balanced budget, the council has identified that savings of £730,000 will be required at the Port of Ramsgate.

“Discussions are continuing with the Department for Transport in respect of Ramsgate Port to support Brexit resilience.

“Any new service out of the Port would have to, as a minimum, generate the level of income required to balance the budget.

“Should arrangements not be finalised, the council will be required to make the cost savings identified.”

Seaborne Freight has been contacted for comment.