The Port of Dover is the gateway to Britain; a critical piece of national infrastructure, but also an integral part of the town.
We all want to see a thriving port and thriving town.
I last visited Dover in November, and heard your views at first-hand about what has worked well at the port over the past year, and what can be improved.
I have thought about what you said, and today (9 April 2014) I’m going to set out the steps I believe we need to take to secure an enduring and shared future for the port and for the community.
Before I go on, I’d like to pay tribute to everyone in Dover involved with the port.
Both the local MP Charlie Elphicke and the Dover Harbour Board Chair, George Jenkins, have in their respective roles made progress in bridging the divide between port and town.
I would also like to commend the harbour board for the excellent performance of the port operations and commend the community for setting out their views on the future of the port with such vigour and purpose.
We have also seen plans for growth and regeneration in Dover, both from Dover Harbour Board (DHB) and the district council. We need to make sure that these move forwards together, and that there is appropriate level of consultation.
Whilst a start has been made, I think we can still do more.
Today (9 April 2014), I’m going to set out the steps that need to be taken to ensure an enduring solution in 3 areas: community involvement, commercial development and regeneration.
The port and its staff has taken significant steps towards improving its engagement with the community.
I have listened to the concerns that were raised when I last visited in November, that although the port and community forum had been set up, and a useful start has been made, we need to move forward further.
I believe Dover needs an enduring and meaningful consultative relationship with its port. This can be achieved by a legal commitment to consult interested parties, as has been done successfully at other major trust ports.
The port and community forum and port user group are in their early days but these groups, among others which have been seen to work well at major trust ports, could be vehicles for delivering this legal commitment.
But we need to do more to deliver a significant and enduring relationship between town and port.
So as well as the legal commitment I have agreed with the board that an important form of permanent community involvement is seats in the boardroom.
Therefore additional, community non-executive directors should be appointed to the board, as has been done at other successful trust ports.
The future board will consist of the chairman, existing non-executive specialist directors, executive directors, and now these community non-executive directors.
This board will oversee 2 operating divisions; a port operating division and a division dedicated to regeneration.
I am clear that all board members must be able to fulfil the duties of this important role.
And it is also important that these community board members are drawn from the community itself, for example either because they live in Dover or have a business in the town.
I want the local community to be involved in selecting these board members, and a form of election could be part of the process. There is much work to be done on clarifying how this can be enacted to best benefit the community and the ongoing success of the port.
I want the board and the wider community to consider together how this can be achieved. I am committed to working with the local member of Parliament to ensure that we have community non-executive directors who have the trust and confidence of the community.
The important point here is that together these measures will place the community at the heart of decision-making at the port.
Engagement with the community and port users is a priority, however without the bedrock of strong commercial performance from the port, nothing can be achieved.
The port has put in an excellent performance over the past year with a 13% increase in ro-ro traffic, and an £85 million investment programme in key infrastructure projects.
This includes the completed berth 6 and traffic management improvement works, which include the creation of a new holding area with capacity for 220 freight vehicles.
This is equivalent to taking almost 4 kilometres of traffic off Dover’s roads.
I would also like to thank everyone at the port for their remarkable resilience in ensuring that the port continued to operate effectively during the appalling weather we experienced this winter.
In February the port also set out its vision for the revival of the western docks, a development which has the potential to create 600 new jobs whilst safeguarding another 140.
These jobs will not be tied to the initial construction projects, and offer a long term boost to Dover.
We now need to allow the port to build on this start, and to make the most of Dover’s commercial potential.
I have therefore agreed with the harbour board that, they should get up-to-date financial powers, giving them the flexibility they need to improve and expand further.
This means enabling them to enter joint ventures, and also to borrow against their assets.
The investment this will help deliver should bring real benefits to the port, its customers and the local community.
These reforms will enable the harbour board to raise substantial funds to invest in the future.
These changes are necessary because we need to do more to regenerate Dover.
The financial powers which are required for the commercial development of the port will allow DHB to enhance its contribution to regeneration.
Alongside the revival of the western docks, we want to see the regeneration of the waterfront, the marina, and Cambridge terrace.
I want everyone to feel that their voice is being heard as these developments progress. The new community directors will enable this to happen.
The harbour board will continue to play a significant role in regeneration.
I have asked them to improve their focus on this and, as a result, I have agreed that the harbour board will create divisions responsible for day-to-day operations and regeneration.
As with commercial operations, the new regeneration division will benefit greatly from the new borrowing powers in moving forward its plans.
This structure will also enable the regeneration division to enact or enter into the whole range of commercial arrangements which will allow regeneration opportunities to be maximised.
Furthermore as a future step, I would like to explore the possibility of the regeneration division becoming a subsidiary company or trust.
That would allow it to benefit from an even greater range of external funding that would not otherwise be possible, for example heritage funding opportunities .
To sum up, Dover is a trust port, with all the benefits that brings. And so my plan is for Dover to remain a trust port. But one with a guarantee of a significant and lasting role for the community as part of the strategic leadership of the port.
This gives the community full participation and consultation in strategic decision making going forward.
As well as looking to the community, the port also has an essential role as a major commercial business with a vital role in the UK’s transport infrastructure.
To continue to succeed, the port must have the right financial powers to allow it to invest and prosper.
My plan will provide this.
Dover is a port town and the port and town must thrive together.
The improved focus on wider regeneration through the new division will allow for engagement of appropriate expertise in this area. This, along with the new financial powers will mean the port can realise better the opportunities it can deliver as well as acting as a catalyst for the wider regeneration of the town.
My plan ensures this.
To make these changes happen, I have agreed with Dover Harbour Board that they will embed the new financial powers and community engagement changes in law through the Harbour Revision Order process.
I am confident that this legislation can swiftly be put in place.
Legislative changes provide a full opportunity for all interested parties to make their voices heard, and you will be kept informed of how you can participate.
My plan ensures that this will happen.
In the meantime I am sure we can all be positive that these changes mean we can move on in the debate about how port and community can work together and channel energies into delivery.
Dover is the gateway to Britain, and it is imperative that this vital part of our transport infrastructure can continue to operate efficiently as a world class port in the 21st century.
But this should be hand in hand with the local community, rather than at its expense.
I am today (9 April 2014) asking the harbour board to explore how the port might further contribute funding and support for the benefit of the local community. I propose a community fund which should maximise the opportunities now afforded. I hope that the harbour board will consider providing it with appropriate initial and ongoing funding from the pre-tax profit of the port, in line with the practise seen in other trust ports.
As I said at the beginning progress has been made and I believe the changes announced today (9 April 2014) will allow the port and town to work permanently, hand-in-hand together towards a thriving Dover.
I would now like to take the opportunity to come and talk to you about what I have just said and answer any questions you may have.