Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Iris Johnston replies regarding Arlington

I had a reply from Labour Councillor Iris Johnston to my tweet to her regarding the Arlington shops and car park. Iris emailed on her personal BT Internet account. I've published her reply, but I'm left wondering why the Leader of the Council is sending emails in a breach of Thanet Council's email usage guidance, given their stance on this matter.:

   Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 10.35.46

 Iris replied to me via email and requested I publish her reply.

  bigpic

 From: Iris johnston
Date: 20 April 2015 at 16:42
Subject: Fwd: Louise Oldfield (@margatearchi)
To: Louise Oldfield
Please could you publish my response Louise.Sent from my iPad

Begin forwarded message:
From: Iris johnston 
Date: 20 April 2015 07:19:00 BST To: "Louise Oldfield (via Twitter)" Subject: Re: Louise Oldfield (@margatearchi) mentioned you on Twitter!
< Thank you a Louise
I have been asking Freswater to reopen the car park from the first days it closed and specially every summer when I have to go down to resolve parking issues. They have now opened a section and I am working on getting the rest.
When they planned to close the shops (when awaiting the Tesco store ) I arranged for the then tenants to have an extended tenure and fought with them for compensation.
Freshwater have a contract with Tesco that is now involved in a legal discussion. They  also have others interested in the site.
Long term Residents will know that for the last thirty years I have been there for them and since I became a Councillor fought for them on a wide range of issues including challenging Freshwater  from the masts on the roof to ensuring the occupiers keep their car parking rights.

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Arlington car park is open to the public!






  


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I was over at Arlington yesterday afternoon and saw that car parking spaces have been marked out in red on the public car park. I was visiting Arlington House because as the local Green Party candidates we've been working hard to secure a good future for the site.

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A small number of car parking spaces at Arlington House’s 500-space car park (still shut to the public in breach of their contract with the council) have been opened up. The council has previously said it’s closed due to health and safety concerns. The spaces have been granted via Councillor Iris Johnston and landlords Freshwater to Children's Club World, a play centre on Marine Drive. (The play centre were in the press a few weeks ago complaining about the loss of their car parking at the Beacon Bingo site to Dreamland. They now offer free parking to their customers from these bays at Arlington…)

 I’m pleased that local parents have somewhere to park when they take their kids to play at this local business. And it's great news the carpark is safe after all. When I spoke to TDC’s parking department today however they said: “Thanet Council parking office have not granted permission to anyone to use the Arlington site car park. I do know that Cllr Johnston was involved in some sort of arrangement that was made between Club World and the lease holders of the Arlington Site it might be best to speak to her..."

 If the Arlington car park is ok for customers of the play centre to park there, then surely it should now be open to the rest of the public and for Dreamland’s opening. Let's see the gates opened wider.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Vote for the Little Oasis Skate Park!

Last year, a group of young people came together and built a skate park on the derelict Council owned Little Oasis Crazy golf site in Cliftonville. Wonderful things began to happen; Visitors came from far and wide to their park. Here's a video of their efforts before the park was destroyed.



 Then the worst thing happened; At 6am one morning, Labour controlled Thanet Council sent in a team, with security guards in support, and smashed their skate park to rubble. One year later, this is what still remains of their park and the Council have stated they are now in talks with an unknown company with a commercial interest in the site. This is one of the most shameful acts of Thanet Council that I've heard of in the eight years that I've lived here. It's an issue that I've continued to question the Council about.

 Last night I saw that Little Oasis skaters had launched a new website posing questions from the skaters directly to the candidates in the upcoming election for May 7th. It gives me great pleasure to be able to reply and to again offer them my support. They're posting the responses they get from candidates in the order they receive them on their website. There's also a link on their site to their online petition, now standing strong at over 4000 signatures. This is an amazing piece of work from a community group of young people who have proven they are engaged in the place they live. What needs to change is how the existing democratic system engages with them and supports their efforts. This episode is one of my main motivations for deciding to stand for election for Margate Central.

Things need to change.

 They asked:

"On April 13th we asked candidates for the Thanet constituencies and for Thanet District Council two questions about the derelict Oasis Crazy Golf site in Cliftonville.

  1. Thousands of people have said that they want the Oasis site on the seafront in Cliftonville to be used as a skate park. They believed that a community-built and run skate park would be an asset for the community and an attraction to visitors. Do you agree with them that the site should be a skate park?
  2. If you do agree, how will you use elected office to achieve this goal?"
Here's our reply from me as a Thanet North Green Party candidate:
  1. We've always supported the people making Little Oasis site so successful. We agree 100% that the Oasis site should be a skate park and that's why we turned up and offered to help. We've offered support and advice right from the beginning on how to secure the site as a community group. We know that the current council set up can seem impenetrable and closed to young people and that there is a feeling that you are not being listened to. It should be a great skate park, built by skaters for skaters.I'm a founder and Steering Group member of the Margate Neighbourhood Plan Forum and we've already agreed to do the work to nominate the Little Oasis Skate Park area to be registered as a official Community Asset of Value to protect it from inappropriate development and to secure it as a skate park for community use. As a constituted group of 21 signatories, this is one of the important roles we can fulfil. This at the heart of Neighbourhood Planning. This is just one of a number of leisure sites that have been identified and will be nominated under this important national scheme.It was utterly devastating to hear how the skate park was smashed to bits by the Council at 6am one morning. It's one of the most shameful episodes in Thanet Council's history. So I'm really pleased to see your initiative to bring the Little Oasis Crazy Skate back on the agenda.

  2. We're already working to make sure the site is nominated as a Community Asset of Value to stop any future development.

 
I've not only supported Little Oasis Crazy Skate since the beginning, but also other groups such as the campaign to renovate the 1977 Hartsdown Skate Park (see my FOIs on that ongoing debacle here and here) and the crisis that had befallen the O'Neill's Boxing Club with their roof caving in, many of the young boxers are now at Pej Court Boxing Club in Westbrook. My Margate Central running mate and Thanet North MP candidate, Ed Targett boxes there. Grass roots sports facilities are vital for young people. I look forward to the day when we as a community will no longer need petitions to be heard by the Council. That young and old, should have a seat at the table to participate more than once every four years. Let's ride!  

Friday, 10 April 2015

Get the Arlington shops and public car park open for Dreamland!


I took a walk tonight down the seafront to Arlington. It was a beautiful evening. Another of the classic Margate sunsets that we're treated to so often here. I strolled all along the seafront on to Arlington.

The works are ploughing ahead with the rebuilt Scenic Railway rising up at Dreamland.



But then we have the boarded up empty shops at Arlington and the closed 500 space car park. Tesco pulled out of building the proposed 82,000 sq ft store back in. So what's happened since? From looking at the site tonight, it doesn't seem like anything has happened at all.



Representatives from Freshwater were in Margate a couple of weeks ago where they met residents of Arlington House. No doubt Freshwater also met their landlord, the freeholder, Thanet District Council. I put a call in to the Council's press office today, and haven't yet heard back.

I wonder if Thanet Council told Freshwater to ensure they abide by the terms of their lease and not to spoil the opening of Dreamland in June by continuing to leave the Arlington shops and public car park closed and boarded up.

With Iris Johnston and the Cabinet voting unanimously last week to develop Fort Road Hotel for social housing citing concern over a blight on the seafront, surely Arlington frontage is an even greater blight? And one that is easier to resolve because Thanet Council is the freeholder.

Leaseholders, Metropolitan Property Realizations are a subsidiary of billionaire property landlords Freshwater (in the last few years their wealth greatly increased: Benzion Freshwater was placed 79th on the Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £1.258 billion). 

Freshwater have a full repairing and maintaining lease for the entire Arlington site for which they pay the Council the princely sum of £7,500 per year. Download the lease here.


Their lease stipulates that they have to keep the buildings on the site in good repair.


Their lease stipulates they have to keep the buildings painted.


Their lease stipulates the shops and car park have to be kept open to the public.



Arlington is immediately adjacent to Dreamland with a number of small shop units running along the seafront and All Saints Avenue. 


Given the crowds that are going to come to Dreamland there's an opportunity to have a whole row of little shops open along the pathway to Dreamland. 


Then there's the public car park. It has 500 badly needed spaces including coaches. Why leave this standing empty when car parking is such a problem? Arlington is the perfect place for a car park in Margate.



So, Thanet Council, did you tell Freshwater to get the shops and car park open at Arlington and not to spoil the opening of Dreamland that people have waited so long for?

We want to be proud of Margate seafront again. Look at it. It's beautiful!

All the pictures were taken tonight.

Issues like this are what made me decide to stand for Council in the upcoming election on May 7th. The Council should be accountable for what it does and what it also fails to do. 

Why can't Thanet Council enforce the terms of the Arlington lease?

In five years of the Arlington campaign, I've never had an answer on this question. Let's hope it doesn't need to come down to enforcement and that Freshwater will do the right thing and smarten up Arlington as per the lease. Tesco pulled out. It's unlikely there is another large superstore tenant wanting to take on Arlington, with large stores are closing up and down the country.

And if we're talking about a social housing need in Margate with sea views, then did you know there were over 30 vacant flats owned by Freshwater in Arlington House that had stood empty for years? 

If Thanet Council were to take back the lease they could tenant these or even sell them and make enough money to renovate the entire site or build housing elsewhere.

Food for thought.



Thursday, 2 April 2015

Historic Toy Museum Trust propose move to Fort Road Hotel

I’ve just received the exciting news that Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust have approached Thanet Council expressing an interest in moving to the Fort Road Hotel to house their collection as an attraction.

Pollock's original Hoxton shop

Pollock’s Toy Museum was first established in 1958 in London as an adunct to the toy shop business that specialized in selling old fashioned toys, especially printed paper model theatres. 




Originally made by Benjamin Pollock in Hoxton in the East End of London from the 1870s to the war. Read about the history of Benjamin Pollock the toy maker here. Online shop here.


Here's an early 1920s Gaumont Film Company newsreel featuring Benjamin Pollock at work in his Hoxton shop in London:




The Trust cite the Margate’s arts-based community along with the opening of Dreamland, Turner Contemporary and the Shell Grotto as reasons for their interest in moving to Margate. 


This is such good news for Margate and The Fort Road Hotel. It goes to show that there are viable options open for the site. I hope that the Council will be able to take forward the option of seeking a none residential use for the building in this prime location. One which would be a key tourist attraction that would secure the future of this cherished heritage asset for the town, and that would provide the opportunity of jobs.

Pollocks Toy Museum Trust would be a perfect compliment to Margate’s historic attractions.


The Council will be discussing the future of Fort Road Hotel at tonight's Cabinet Meeting which starts at 7pm.

In the meantime:

Please sign the petition to Save Fort Road Hotel.
Support the Save Fort Road Hotel Facebook Page
Write to Councillor Iris Johnston, Leader of Thanet Council.


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thanet Council reject Turner Contemporary’s inspirational plans for historic Fort Road Hotel, in favour of demolition and social housing

Options Study for Fort Road Hotel, June 2014

In December 2014 Councillor Iris Johnston surprised the public with her Leader’s Report to the Council regarding the potential demolition of the historic Fort Road Hotel and the development of the site for social housing flats.

Soon afterwards, Councillor Richard Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Housing, stated that:
“several attempts were made to market this building but unfortunately to no avail.”


This Labour Council’s  announcement was a shock to many  residents and interested parties, who had been following the council’s own PR and marketing of the hotel for development as boutique hotel.

It seemed obvious that such a prominent seafront location, opposite Turner Contemporary made a hotel an obvious and attractive option. The council had even erected a rooftop neon ‘ICONIC SITE’ sign to market it for development into a much needed boutique hotel, which would be an economic boost to Margate. I covered this in my blog post of December 6th 2014.

ICONIC SITE neon marketing

The Kent and London based award-winning architectural and interior design practice of Guy Hollaway Architects RIBA, has presented  two high quality schemes,  drawn up for  two separate developers since 2010.

The first of these with the original landowners, was proceeding with the apparent agreement of KCC and Thanet Council during the Tory administration of Bob Bayford in 2010. But the CPO for demolition was still implemented in 2010 by the council’s housing department with the stated purpose of demolition.  This in itself is questionable to demolish a building in a Conservation Area without an approved scheme to replace it.

The second Guy Hollaway  Architects scheme was for a London based developer and was announced in the press on July 22nd 2013

Guy Hollaway scheme July 2013

In February 2014, after hearing this second scheme had also fallen through,  I asked the council if they had any buildings which the council were looking for developers to take forward as hotels. I’m the owner of a successful  boutique bed and breakfast business and we were actively exploring expansion of our business. I was told there weren’t buildings for hotels and I should make enquiries of estate agents in the area.

It then came to my attention that in spring 2014 that Turner Contemporary had been asked by the council from February 2014 to draw up an options scheme for a boutique hotel for the Fort Road Hotel site.

In December 2014 I made a Freedom of Information request for documents relating to the site. At first the Council refused to release the options document them on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Following a successful appeal to the council the options document was made public last week. 

I can now reveal that an options document was indeed drawn up for Turner Contemporary by architects Hawkins Brown in June 2014. Email discussions between Turner Contemporary and the council’s Head of Economic Development and Asset Management, Edwina Crowley, show that while the council had first encouraged Turner Contemporary to draw up a hotel scheme Ms Crowley then stated on June 24th 2014 that they would not hand over the freehold to the site as part of any deal. And further that: "The agreement for the lease will prevent any land banking and enable us to get the site back, plus prevent residential use."

Download the public file (PDF) of the email discussions with the Council.




This scheme, which was never disclosed to the voting public, then appears to have collapsed. Download the PDF of the options document that has been made public. Ironically, it includes an image from one of my own bedrooms in my B&B as a style guide!

Illustration of potential boutique hotel use
After this opaque and puzzling episode, the current council administration is now  determined to demolish a heritage building and utilise  this strategic site for housing;  rather than economic/job creation /tourism regeneration as was their position in 2010 at the time of their CPO.

This raises the issue of why a great deal of taxpayers money was  wasted  in marketing the site for development into a boutique hotel?

In addition, large sums of wasted money have been  spent by prospective developers in drawing up expensive schemes to submit to this council,  schemes which TDC had no intention of pursuing. And all the while the building has been left in a derelict eyesore state open to the elements since the CPO of 2010.

This Thursday on April 2nd, the TDC Cabinet Meeting has tabled a motion to transfer the Fort Road Hotel to the Housing Revenue account so that demolition can take place and development for social housing.

Perhaps we should now be asking Councillor Nicholson whether he knew that TDC had made TDC possession of the freehold of the site non-negotiable, when he said that efforts to find a partner for the hotel project had been "to no avail."

The Save Fort Road petition is now running at over 600 signatures. It’s clear the public don’t want this historic building  to be demolished. And despite the council’s attempts to suppress the information, the Turner Contemporary proposal it looks like the kind of scheme the public would support.

There are plenty of empty properties and sites throughout the area for the council to utilise and develop for  modern  housing. Margate doesn’t  have many places where Turner’s sea and sky can be seen in such a spectacular setting, where natural beauty can support local jobs and sustainable revenues for the town.      
               
If we’re elected to the council, Ed Targett and I will work to ensure all asset disposals are conducted in an open and transparent manner.                                                                                        

We must not lose any more strategic economic sites in the town that could provide badly needed jobs. Margate is a great town with a great future as a tourist destination and as a place to live.                              
We  deserve better from our council.

What can we do as individuals?

SIGN THE PETITION!
Join the Save Fort Road Hotel Facebook page and spread the word!

Write to Acting Chief Executive Madeline Homer ahead of Thursday’s Cabinet Meeting to ask her to review the decision to move towards housing development of the historic Fort Road Hotel. Madeline.homer@thanet.gov.uk        

Follow the hashtag #MargateSpringClean    
https://www.facebook.com/margatespringclean                                     

Additional Edit:
I finally managed to open this coming Thursday's April 2nd Cabinet Meeting Agenda Report document. PDF of the Fort Road Hotel Agenda Item 7 here.

There's even more shocking information. These excerpts are taken from the above Agenda Reports document.




Given the information that has been released to the public regarding the Turner Contemporary options document, it doesn't seem to be true that there wasn't a suitable development proposal put forward. The Council no longer offering the freehold is not the same issue.



There we have it. £950,000 is the figure the Council are proposing to spend on destroying historic building to build social housing.


The council have spent £30,000 is scaffolding since 2010 while private developers spent their money proposing hotel schemes for the site. What about the cost of the marketing and PR with the neon 'ICONIC SITE'?



The Council stipulate for themselves as developers that the site must be developed for non commercial purposes, yet in June 2014, Edwina Crowley stipulated any lease created for a private developer would be to ensure it wouldn't be residential.

How much public money has been spent on  marketing the site for a hotel?
How much money have the proposals cost private developers since 2010?
Why has the public been kept in the dark?


It's this kind of behaviour from the Council that convinced me to stand for election in the Margate Central Ward. If elected I will do my best to ensure there is full transparency and accountability for disposals of this nature. And a level playing field for private developers when up against the Council as a developer. #MargateSpringClean


Friday, 27 March 2015

Walpole Bay Event May 24th



This is going to be a wonderful event on May 24th.

In the last year or so, great things have happened for the amazing Walpole Bay area. From the listing applications that resulted in both the pool and lift being awarded Grade II status, the campaign to not de-designate the bay for bathing, the valuable restoration work on the lift undertaken by volunteers, to the dedicated swimmers of Walpole Bay Tidal Pool Swimmers.

Heritage protection of valuable assets opens up the door to further external funding options that can then bolster the efforts of the community to protect and keep them in use. Many funding avenues are only available to listed structures. We should be thankful to the pioneers of Cliftonville past that they left us with such quality assets that are still with us. I'm proud to have played my part in the protection of heritage assets in Margate. Heritage is a key tourism driver and attracts valuable inward investment.

Walpole Bay and indeed the Cliftonville seafront is a special place that is loved and treasured by the community and vistors. Protecting heritage assets in this way for future and present day generations of people to enjoy the outdoors and helth benefits of bathing and enjoying the seaside.

Do check out the wonderful SEAS Phototography collection: http://www.seasphotography.org.uk/





In other news, I'm proud to have Mr Ed Targett  as my running mate for the council seats for Margate Central on May 7th. We're both standing as Green Party candidates and we both live in the Margate Central Ward. Ed's post is here.

Check out our Margate Spring Clean Facebook Page to get involved with the  campaign to bring positive change to Thanet Council for Margate.  Posters and leaflets are coming! If you can help, drop us a line at margatespringclean@gmail.com or via my own contact form on this blog.

#MargateSpringClean #LoveMargate