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Minister rejects ferrymens’ challenge to Dover fees

[ May 21, 2012   //   ]

Under Secretary for Transport Norman Baker has rejected a challenge to the port of Dover’s harbour dues by ferry operators. P&O Ferries Holdings, SeaFrance and DFDS had lodged objections to the dues as part of an ongoing dispute between the port authority and the operators over the port’s use of money raised from fees on the operators in a dispute that originated in 2010. The operators said that the port had used money intended for investment in improved infrastructure for other purposes, including pension deficits.

However, in a letter to the operators on 21 May, the SoS said that he had decided to accept an inspector’s report, and accepts a recommendation that the harbour dues should be approved.

Dover Harbour Board (DHB) said it welcomed the announcement, describing it as “another significant vote of confidence in the strategic direction of the UK’s busiest trust port and its management team”. It came only a few months after DHB received formal Government approval for its second ferry terminal (Terminal 2), the board pointed out.

Bob Goldfield, Chief Executive, Port of Dover said: “We have always believed that we have a very strong case for the tariff levels that we charge and that they are always set with due regard to the policy guidance given by Government. Only a realistic tariff level can ensure that we can meet our many obligations to all of our stakeholder groupings, including our ferry operators.”

In a statement, P&O Ferries said: “We are naturally very disappointed at the outcome and need time to consider all the detail of the inspector’s report.

However, we believe that the appeals process is archaic and is in urgent need of reform. We knew it would be extremely difficult to gain relief via this mechanism but we had no option due to the unwillingness of Dover Harbour Board to consider our viewpoint.

“DHB told the inquiry that the cash surplus built up over recent years specifically for T2 development would be ring-fenced for the benefit of the ferry operators on privatisation and we are grateful that the Secretary of State has noted this position.

“We do ask that any privatisation scheme serves also to protect the long term interests of the ferry operators. We are the largest employers in the area and we are concerned that unregulated increases in charges may damage our prospects.”

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