Why Councils shouldn’t try to be businesses

November 05, 2014 10:29 AM

Once again we have cause to question the business sense of Thanet District Council. Ramsgate Port still lies unused by any ferry operator with no takers – unless you include the highly controversial live animal exports that the council itself would rather not have.

Some time ago there was a row about what to do with the derelict Dreamland amusement park site. To prevent the intended housing and retail, Thanet District Council compulsorily purchased the land and set about planning a new historical amusement park. To be fair, the plans look quite pleasant – though whether financially viable is disputed. However, it needs a business partner to actually get it done and run it. The hunt for such a partner is still proceeding, having twice been abandoned for procedural reasons and to change terms and conditions. There are murmurings among some council members of “mismanagement”.

I’ve said it before but no matter how well intentioned these things are, it’s our money and not there to take chances with.

Thanet’s track record quite simply isn’t too good in that respect.

The affair of Manston Airport rumbles on. Without repeating what’s been reported before, the site has been sold by Ann Gloag to a development company – part of the consortium who are running Discovery Park, the old Pfizer site, not far away. Their plans include a business park, manufacturing and service industry and some retail and housing. The runway would be ripped up. Thanet Council are still considering an offer from a company that says they can make a go of it as an airport, concentrating on freight and scrappage. Unfortunately that’s something nobody has achieved in years – Ann Gloag reckoned it was losing her £10,000 a day. The suggestion is for the council to use a CPO to buy and then go in with their operator as an airport. They are looking into the financial implications very carefully. A decision is scheduled for December. Strong opinions are being expressed locally on both sides of the argument. A further complication: accusations have been made against the consortium of the new owners concerning their financial situation. This one is not over yet. We can only hope evidence and financial prudence prevail.

Manston’s operators and users have taken – and lost – financial aid twice before from Kent County Council. Also in Thanet, the Turner Centre credited with a certain amount of regeneration in Margate, came about only with support from Kent County Council.

Fingers crossed the Ramsgate Port situation is dealt with sooner rather than later.

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