I was invited, with Craig McInlay, Ralph Hoult, Grahame Birchall and Jocelyn McCarthy of the Ramsgate Society, to speak at a public meeting on Wednesday which had been called to discuss proposals from the O’Regan Group of companies to locate a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing plant at the Port of Ramsgate. This was the second meeting about the proposals and was attended by about 40 people. It was a very lively meeting. All of the panellist spoke passionately against the O’Regan proposals and there was lots of discussion about how the plans could be opposed. There was broad agreement that, in the face of competition from Dover, concentrating on the revival of ferry and freight services was no longer a sustainable option for the port of Ramsgate. Instead, the port should become a host to leisure and tourist focused activities such as a modern marina, whilst at the same time protecting and supporting Ramsgate’s traditional maritime industries of fishing, boat building and repairs and continuing to host the wind farm support fleet. The location of the concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing operation would conflict with such a development. And even though it would create jobs, O’Regan’s development would not create anywhere approaching the number of jobs and business opportunities that a modern marina based at the port would do. A petition opposing the O’Regan proposals has now been set up which already has almost 1,000 signatures and several people have volunteered to collect more names. Jocelyn McCarthy said that he would seek the Ramsgate Society’s endorsement and support for the petition.
In preparing for the meeting I asked the Council to see theO’Regan file. A request which, to my surprise, was granted. The file reveals that, despite the claim on O’Regan’s website, the company has not submitted a planning application to the Council. The last official communication between the Council and O’Regan’s was 17th December 2014. Whilst not wishing to delve into planning technicalities, the papers I looked at suggested to me that O’Regan has a fair chance of being able to secure permission for its proposed operations at the port. There is already an existing aggregate/ concrete mixing (Brett Aggregates) operation at the port. Existing use will undoubtedly strengthen O’Regan’s case to locate its activities at the site. I also believe that O’Regan’s and Brett might be collaborating on the concrete block proposal. Why else would Bretts have been invited to attend private business discussions between O’Regans and the Council if some form of partnership between the 2 companies was not being considered? A joint enterprise between the 2 companies, perhaps protecting or increasing employment or generating more aggregate shipping at the port, would almost certainly improve the chances of securing permission. But the most compelling reasons why I believe O’Regan’s might have a chance of being allowed to operate from Ramsgate Port are to be in found in Kent County Councils (KCCs) Minerals and Waste Plan and Thanet Council’s Ramsgate Maritime Plan.
KCCs Mineral and Waste Plan regulates the location of mineral wharves and railheads across the county. It also protects associated concrete, mortar and aggregate recycling facilities located near to the designated mineral wharfs or railheads. The Port of Ramsgate is listed in the plan as a designated mineral wharf. This means O’Regan’s proposals for concrete processing at the Port fit in nicely with Kent County Council’s planning policy and therefore have a greater chance of success. I have written previously about how our so-called politicians missed major opportunities to revise the Mineral Plan to allow the public to have stronger rights to object to unsuitable developments at the port. I explained how Ramsgate Kent County Councillors Martyn Heale and Trevor Shonk and Prospective Ramsgate Labour MP Will Scobie attended a KCC meeting where consultation on a new Minerals Plan was being discussed and that all three of them failed to submit any comments or revisions which would have aided local people in their objections to O’Regans. I also highlighted the fact that Labour-led Ramsgate Town Council was invited to submit comments on the KCC revised Mineral Plan but disgracefully failed to do so even though some of the councillors were aware of O’Regan’s proposals for the port. Clearly the irresponsible failure of KCC and Ramsgate Town Labour Councillors to do their job properly has greatly increased the chances of O’Regan’s proposals becoming a reality. Which brings me nicely to the Ramsgate Maritime Plan.
The Ramsgate Maritime Plan was approved by TDCs Cabinet on 31 July 2014. It is a key planning document which sets out a long term, strategic vision for the port and harbour. Amongst other things it says that the aggregate trade at the port should be grown and expanded, which provides yet more support for O’Regan’s proposal to locate their concrete block manufacturing operations at Ramsgate Port. Amazingly this extremely important document was drawn up without any proper public consultation! According to a Freedom of Information request I submitted three consultation events were held. These events were restricted to hand-picked invitees and held behind closed doors, were held. Only one local resident was asked to attend any of these events! I find it hard to believe that in drawing up plans for the future of Ramsgate Port and developing polices for the use of this massively important strategic infrastructure, the people of Ramsgate were totally excluded from any consultation and discussion. This is typical of Labour controlled Thanet Council who prefer to make decisions secretly behind closed door, rather than engaging with the local people they are supposed to represent. This undemocratic exclusion of the public has led to situation where the future of the port is now tied into an industrial/ aggregate based framework which directly conflicts with the revival of tourism and leisure on Ramsgate seafront. Had TDCs ruling Labour Group allowed a public consultation on the Maritime Plan then it would have been likely that future uses of the port would have included the promotion and development of tourism and leisure, rather than a fetish for a 1970s business model of ferries, freight and aggregate which is clearly failing.
But all is not entirely lost. The shambolic incompetence andmismanagement of KCC, TDC and Ramsgate Town councillors and their appalling lack of vision and aspiration may not have totally scuppered opportunities for stopping O’Regans. One of the documents I spotted in the file was a letter from English Nature which helpfully pointed out that Ramsgate Port lies close to protected areas including; a site of special scientific interest; a marine conservation area; a European special protect area (SPA); a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and an area of wetlands protected under the international Ramsar Convention. Because of the environmentally sensitive nature of these very rare sites, the Council, is considering requiring O’Regan’s to produce an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA must set out how O’Regan’s will manage the impact of noise and dust upon these fragile areas and how it will manage the huge quantities of polluted water produced by their concrete block and waste wood processing operations without contamination of the protected sites. O’Regan’s will also have to apply to the Environment Agency for a permit to carry out its proposed operations at the port. When submitted, the permit application will be advertised locally and residents will have the chance to object. A campaign of objection based upon the danger to the protected sites presented by O’Regan’s plans would, in my opinion have a good a chance of chance of success. Coupled with the fact that O’Regan’s previous record as a polluter in the Republic of Ireland (see my other posts on O’Regans) might be enough to ensure that any application for planning permission or an environment permit are rejected.
However we don’t yet have any applications to campaign against. Planning applications, an EIA and Environment Agency permits take time to prepare and will cost O’Regans £1000s. My guess is that O’Regan’s are holding back because they don’t want to spend large amounts of money on this work until after the forthcoming council elections. Once the elections are over O’Regan’s can then decide if the new ruling group is sympathetic towards their plans and whether it is worth spending a lot of money on taking their plans forward.
Should any of the Green Party’s 13 council candidates be elected to in May we will take a motion to the first available Council meeting arguing for a comprehensive Ramsgate Seafront plan to be developed, based on full and proper consultation with local residents, businesses and community groups. The plan will include a detailed examination of future options for the port including its transformation into a leisure focused facility. Whilst the development of the seafront plan is underway we will insist that no new aggregate related, or waste processing operations are permitted at the port.
At the meeting on Wednesday, many speakers identified tourism and leisure as one of the most important driving forces behind the regeneration of Ramsgate – a theme eloquently summed up by Craig McInlay who said Ramsgate should become the Monaco of Kent. Although I may disagree with Craig on many things, on this issue he is spot on. For Ramsgate to become, once again, a successful town, tourism and leisure must be promoted, supported, developed and invested in. This means having a strong seafront plan which will ensure that developments which blights the seafront and holds back leisure and tourism, such as the O’Regan proposals will not be permitted.