Tuesday 27 July 2010

Last minute call to object to the development of houses over Margate Caves

Thanet District Council - who own Margate Caves - has applied for planning permission to build houses on the site. The application says that the houses will not prevent the Caves re-opening, but my opinion is that if this development goes ahead it's almost impossible to see a viable future for the tourist attraction.

It takes only a minute or two to object to the planning application. If you can spare the time, and of course if you agree, we’d be grateful for your support.
The deadline for Comments is Tuesday, the 27th.

You can view the application by going here


And searching for Application No: F/TH/10/0546 (Can’t provide a direct link as it changes daily!)

If you haven't time, and would like to object, you can add your name and address and send the note below to thandi.zulu@thanet.gov.uk and a send a copy to cllr-Clive.hart@thanet.gov.uk and cllr-Linda.aldred@thanet.gov.uk .

Dear Thandi

I am fully in support of Claire Blackwell’s statement below. These houses should not be built here.

Best wishes

[name and address]

I believe that this proposal does nothing to safeguard the Margate Caves and almost completely extinguishes any prospect of them re-opening as a tourist attraction.

In addition, the houses proposed are of poor design, and would represent a discordant and derivative addition to the built environment immediately adjacent to a conservation area.

Many millions of pounds of public money have been invested in Margate’s future as a tourist resort, both at Turner Contemporary and Dreamland. We stand on the brink of a bright new future for the town, but tourism experts speak of the need for a ‘broad offer’ ie a range of attractions for the visitor to enjoy.

This proposal removes all of the Caves’ roadside presence, thus rendering them invisible from the highway. More importantly it takes any land that might be utilised for ancillary uses, such as a gift shop and café. It is generally accepted that secondary spend is vital to a tourist attraction’s viability, often accounting for at least 50% of turnover. The removal of land for this purpose effectively renders the Caves unviable as a business proposition. (The damp conditions in the Caves themselves preclude the creation of an underground shop/café.)

The proposal sees the loss of the original access tunnel (created in 1914 by tunnelling from the cellars of the Vicarage for incumbents to gain safety during air raids). Indeed it suggests that this tunnel is infilled. There is a suggestion that Forsters Entrance could be brought back into use, but details as to how this might be achieved are completely lacking.

Forsters Tunnel was filled with rubble and sealed off after the bombing of Holy Trinity Church and Northumberland House. Research suggests that it was last used in 1941, so we cannot know – without extensive surveying – whether it represents a suitable alternative entrance.

Crucially, there is no assurance that Forsters Entrance will be opened before the existing entrance is closed.

There is no provision for testing the ground under the proposed development for any unknown caves/voids. There are known caves across Northdown Road under Flint House so it is not inconceivable that there may be something south of the Vortigern Caves, under the proposed development site. Also it is known that there was at least one WW1 'dug-out' dug somewhere near the Caves – however, the exact location is unknown.

Adam Single, the Archaelogical Officer at Kent County Council, has reported that there is potential for iron age and Romano-British remains on the site. This is, therefore, a potentially important historical site even without considering the Vortigern Caves.

Lastly, this proposal flies in the face of the results of TDC’s own Margate Caves Consultation (2009). Over 90% of respondents opposed the sale and development of the site. Specific concerns voiced included infilling of any part of the Caves and the potential loss of a tourist attraction for the town. Representations included one from Margate Civic Society and a petition of 2,592 signatures.

The Margate Caves are an important and fascinating part of the town’s tourism offer. Their potential worth is far greater than that of seven poorly-designed houses.

Claire Blackwell
Trustee, Friends of the Shell Grotto

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