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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Battle lines drawn at ferry port
Labour and the Lib Dems oppose Conservative sell-off plans
The Port of Dover is on the frontline of the general election battlefield after the Conservatives announced it will be privatised if they win.

They say that selling the world's busiest passenger ferry port will raise 100m to be reinvested in the town.

The Labour Party says the Conservative "threat" is a cheap political stunt which is bound to fail.

And the Liberal Democrats are also against the idea, saying it has not been thought through properly.

'Very valuable asset'

The Conservative plan was announced on 7 March by shadow transport secretary Tim Yeo.

He described the port, which has been run as a trust for 400 years, as a "very valuable asset" which was not being utilised for the benefit of Dover and its residents.

Conservative candidate for Dover and Deal Paul Watkins said that the proceeds of the sale would go to improving road and rail links to the town.

It would enable the dualling of the A2, improvements to the A20 outside Dover and the A258 Deal to Dover route.

P&O ferry
P&O has admitted competition from budget airlines is a difficulty
Regeneration would lead to better shops, leisure facilities and education services.

He said his preferred option for the sale was by public flotation, enabling local residents to buy shares.

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Antony Hook, said the most likely purchasers would be international investors backed by foreign banks.

"The idea that it will be owned by local people is absolute nonsense," he said.

He said his party believed that privatisation only worked well where it resulted in competition.

Selling the Port of Dover would be similar to the privatisation of the railways, replacing a state monopoly with a private monopoly.

Aviation industry

He said there should also be a "fair and level" playing field for ferry companies which had to compete against budget airlines.

The aviation industry benefited from government subsidies including not being charged tax on fuel.

P&O Ferries slashed prices in February after admitting it needed to compete more fiercely with budget airlines.

It is part of a review of its business which has led to more than 800 job losses at Dover.

Labour's Gwyn Prosser, who held Dover and Deal with a 5,199 majority in the 2001 general election, is campaigning to save the port from privatisation and raised a petition to present to Parliament.

'Repeat mistakes'

"The Tories tried to sell off Dover in 1995 when they were still in government but when local people realised the most likely buyer would be the Port of Calais public opinion swung against them," he said.

"Dover needs to mobilise against the Tory plans in the same way.

"The Conservatives seem determined to repeat their mistakes of yesterday .

"The Tories' promise to spend the money gained from the sale of the port is just pie in the sky.

"No privatisation has ever resulted in the proceeds going to a local community."