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?

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.        

Follow the hashtag #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


  1. It would appear our beloved council, having promised several times to demolish and grass the site if no viable use could be found are now preparing to spend £950,000 on 3 units of social housing on a site CPO'd for a different purpose, a CPO still with no compensation figure agreed. In the year of a hit film about Turner TDC have made the wrong choices yet again. Just could not make it up.

  2. Chris the CPO was implemented while you were on the Conservative Cabinet I believe in 2010? Wasn't this implemented while despite the owners putting forward expensive architect drawn proposals? This seems to have been victim to two administrations attempts to demolish it and develop housing.

  3. Everyone make sure these vandals are kicked out in May!and prosecuted if necessary!