The state-owned Port of Dover, Europe’s busiest port, is putting itself up for sale in a bid to raise £400 million of private capital to fund an expansion programme that will include construction of a new ferry terminal.
Dover Harbour Board has written to Transport Secretary Lord Adonis requesting that Dover – Europe’s busiest ferry port – be privatised under the 1991 Ports Act in order to raise outside funding to build a new ferry terminal in the Western Docks.
The port is being advised on the sale by investment bank NM Rothschild.
“The board has stated that a change in its ownership will ensure the necessary capital is secured for investment in the port to deliver new capacity as and when it is required,” Roger Mountford, the chairman of Dover Harbour Board said.
“This would guarantee the port’s ability to meet the needs of its customers over the long term and securing the position of the Port of Dover as a key international gateway in the light of forecast growth in roll-on, roll-off traffic volumes.”
Under the 1991 Act, the government can force trust ports to privatise – a power it has so far refrained from using but one now looking attractive given the state of the public finances.
Bob Goldfield, Dover’s chief executive, denied that the port had been put under any pressure to privatise. He told The Telegraph: “No, we haven’t. We just think this is the time in our history to change our structure.”
However he has conceded that Dover’s review of its options follows guidance from the Department for Transport to the UK’s major state ports that it would work with them to explore “options for commercialisation of assets”.
Mr Goldfield said: “A lot of things have come together, including the need to deliver new infrastructure.”
The board has also outlined plans to set up a charitable trust to support local community projects – a move seen to curry favour with local and political opposition to the privatisation.
This could see the port gift the trust an equity stake of up to 10pc, providing capital and a dividend stream to finance such things as local regeneration projects.
Other large trust ports, including Milford Haven, Tyne and Aberdeen, could now also come under pressure to privatise.