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

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:

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 or via my own contact form on this blog.

#MargateSpringClean #LoveMargate

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Margate, change is possible

“It will always be the same. Nothing will change” 

This is something I’ve heard time and time again from residents in relation to Thanet Council. 
Which led me to wonder; why is this?

Why can’t things change? And change for the better?

I’ve heard that young people just aren’t interested in local politics. I don’t believe this is true. Young people play a valuable role in Margate and have proved themselves capable of working together to improve the place where they live. Their reward? Thanet Council smashed to bits the Little Oasis skate park  they built with their own hands and not followed through on their promise to restore Hartsdown Skate Park that was backed by a 1500 strong petition. [Sign the new petition here]

I’ve heard that the people of Margate settle for the status quo that merely passes from red to blue and back again over the years or else they would step forward themselves. I don’t believe this true. Good people with valuable experience to share and contribute find the current system of endless committees scheduled at times they can’t attend and back biting party rivalries, off putting.

I believe the people of Margate do care about Margate. But they’ve lost faith in the political system to listen to them.  They’ve lost faith in those in power to bring about change.
This is about Margate, not which colour party you stand for. We all walk the same streets, look out on the same seafront.  The place we live in is the thing that unites us as a town.

In the eight years I’ve lived in  Margate there has been incredible change. But not all for the better.  Those of us that live and work in Margate can see that our streets are still dirty, Margate High Street needs cleaning up, our young people still need places to go.  We can see in the news that Thanet Council needs to be more open and accountable to the people of Margate.

So, I’ve decided to take a step towards working to achieve positive change in Margate by accepting an invitation to stand as the Green Party candidate for  councillor for Margate Central.  I believe the people of Margate can change Margate for the better.

I’m registering to stand up for Margate. I can only encourage others to do the same. At the least, register to vote, it takes 5 minutes and you can do itonline.  You have until April 20th to register to vote. If you want to help with the campaign, get in touch (contact form to the right!). We've got one month to get the word out. 

Sunday 8 March 2015

Roger Gale MP's submission re the draft Thanet Local Plan

My MP, Sir Roger Gale's (Thanet North) response to the draft Thanet Local Plan. The deadline for comments was on Friday 6th.

A very good response from Sir Roger. All in all this is a piece of work where I think Roger has done a very good job as an elected member of parliament. Roger quite rightly points out the numbers don't add up.  12,000 new homes and only 5,000 jobs, anyone? As for Westwood Cross being rebranded Westwood and being the prime town centre, Roger quite rightly points out it isn't a town. 

Take it away, Sir Roger:

5 March, 2015.

The Strategic Planning Manager
Thanet District Council
PO Box 9


Thanet District Council – Draft Local Plan

I have studied with care Thanet District Council`s Draft Local Plan, I have attended public meetings and I have received many communication by e-mail and by post from a large number of constituents and representative bodies.  Most particularly I have received input from Manston Parish Council, St. Nicholas at Wade  Parish Council, The Westgate on Sea Residents` Association, Birchington Parish Council, Acol Parish Council, Minster Parish Council, Garlinge, Cliffsend , Broadstairs  and the Margate Civic Society.  From that informed position I now submit my observations as follows:

National Planning Policy Framework

First, and as indicated in Thanet`s initial consultation document, the NPPF places “The emphasis upon local authorities to produce a local plan that objectively identifies and then meets the housing, business and other development needs of an area”.   The NPPF is not inhibitive in its guidelines and very specifically allows local authorities to determine their own needs with regard to both development and the environment.  The South East Local Plan, which set targets for growth including required housing targets was rescinded on 26th March 2013. Responsibility for the proposals contained within the Draft District Plan therefore lies directly with Thanet District Council. It is in this context that the proposals should be appraised.

General reaction

Overwhelmingly public reaction has opposed aspects of the Draft Plan and most specifically has objected to the Council`s proposals to accommodate “12,000 additional homes over the 20 year period to 2031” as outlined in (North Thanet) Policies SP13, SP14 and SP15,  with considerable disquiet  also expressed about proposals for new housing in the Thanet villages. These proposals appear to conflict with Policy SP26  and  “the Protection of Open Space”.

Concern has also been expressed in relation to the Council`s intention to widen the designation of Manston Airport to describe the site as an “opportunity area”, facilitating the possibility of the alternative use of a site that the majority of people of Thanet see as a national and local asset that should and must be preserved for aviation and related purposes only.


Public response

I have received no representations at all in support of the Draft Local Plan as a whole or in part.  While there is clearly a recognition of the need for “local homes for local people”, for the creation of employment opportunities within the wider East Kent and for additional provision of infrastructure to meet existing needs, all of the observations that I have received, and those which have been made in considerable numbers to Thanet District Council, have been negative and reflect very real misgivings.


In describing Thanet the Draft Plan notes that

“The villages retain their separate physical identity, historic character and have vibrant communities and services” and adds that “The open countryside between the towns and villages remains essentially undeveloped, with a varied landscape, tranquility and distinctive views”.

while Strategic Priority 4 lays emphasis on the need to

“safeguard local distinctiveness and promote awareness, responsible enjoyment, protection and enhancement of Thanet`s environment…….”

This appears to be little more than lip-service in the light of what is actually being put forward for consideration.

The proposals contained within the Draft Plan threaten to destroy not only the “separate physical identity” of Westbrook, Garlinge, Westgate on Sea and Birchington  which residents correctly regard as villages in their own right, but to overwhelm the “tranquility and distinctive views” of the smaller Thanet Villages that I represent while not meeting even the current requirements for enhanced local education, medical and other services.

The Draft Plan asserts that:

“It is recognised that any growth in Thanet must be supported by the necessary infrastructure, such as roads, schools and health facilities. The Plan aims to take a co-ordinated approach to delivering such facilities alongside new development and the Council has and will continue to work with other agencies, organisations and service providers to ensure that this is achieved”.

In fact, it emerges from the Draft Plan that little or no realistic provision has been made for the required services and that there is a bland assumption that “ the developer” will provide the  “two form entry primary schools” that it is believed will meet the needs of the families occupying new homes and will presumably also create, for example, the “new link road to serve the development (in Birchington) and extending from Minnis Road and the A28”  while offering no solution to any increased secondary school need.  There is no indication that “other agencies,


 organisations and service providers” will be either able or willing to step up to the mark and small faith can be placed, on the basis of current performance, in the claims contained within Policy SP32- Community Infrastructure and SP 33 – The expansion of Primary Schools. It is not enough to suggest that “Thanet will work with Kent County Council in identifying, allocating and safeguarding land as appropriate.” Adequate provision must be identified, resourced and made in advance, not as an afterthought.

In fact, the lack of thought given to or provision for supporting road, education, primary and secondary healthcare  and other ( social and emergency) services forms the justified basis for very many of the critical observations that have been submitted by individual residents and, in great detail, by the genuinely representative bodies that have made submissions.


Turning specifically to housing,  Policy SP 11 Housing Provision indicates that :

“Provision is made for a total of 12,000 additional homes in the period to 2031 with notional delivery across the period…..”   “attributed evenly over four five-year periods.”

This figure, which represents a dramatic increase over the number of homes predicted as needed in the previous (2006)  local plan, seems to be predicated upon “The Council`s aspirations for economic and employment growth” which in turn is based subliminally not upon the needs of local people but upon inward migration from the rest of the United kingdom.

Brutally, East Kent in general and Thanet in particular has suffered for too long from the “dumping”, by London Boroughs of problem children and problem families and there is a very real fear that much of the proposed additional housing may be used to accommodate not local people at all but those which the London Boroughs seek to re-locate out-of-area.  Thanet has neither the facilities nor the finances to meet these demands and the provision of housing that is not supported by fully adequate infrastructure and employment is neither acceptable nor sustainable.

Under the heading “Protecting the Countryside” the Draft Plan indicates that:

(4.1) The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that local plans should take account of the roles and character of different areas, promoting the vitality of our main urban areas and recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside”.

The Draft Plan accepts that:

(4.1)“Thanet`s open countryside is particularly vulnerable to development because of its limited extent, the openness and flatness of the rural landscape and the proximity of the towns. Thanet`s countryside provides important landscapes that contribute to its sense of place, as well as making Thanet an attractive place that people want to come to. Much of the countryside is classified as `best and most versatile agricultural land`. The countryside also supports a variety of habitats and species, particularly a number of important species of farmland birds which have declined in numbers over the last few years”.


The authors of the report might have added the Thanet Brown Hare to their list of species but the assertion (4.3) that “there is a presumption against the development in the countryside as the sites allocated in this plan meet the development needs of the District” is disingenuous.  It is very precisely the rural hinterland of Garlinge, Westgate on Sea and Birchington, that is being proposed as part of the solution to “the development needs of the District” while the impact of the proposals upon the smaller rural villages is also designed to intrude upon countryside and habitat.

Specifically, and in relation to Quex Park, we are told that:

(4.24)”The Park is unique within the Thanet context, comprising a formal and extensive wooded parkland and amenity landscape within an otherwise open intensively farmed landscape”

How can (SP 22/5)

“New development proposals respect the historic character of the (Quex Park) parkland and gardens”

succeed if a housing estate, complete (presumably) with all of the necessary supporting roads , street lighting, drainage, convenience stores and other infrastructure is to be permitted to be built upon the doorstep of this “unique” park on the hitherto  “open and intensively-farmed landscape”?

Instead of asserting, as the Draft Plan does, that:

“A significant amount of greenfield housing land is required to meet the housing target”

the Council must first review its methodology and justify the amount of additional housing that will actually be required in the foreseeable future.

In tandem with this approach there must be a thorough appraisal of unoccupied and under-occupied property and an acceptance of the need, given the age profile of the population, to seek to create suitable accommodation (not merely the proposed `flats for single-person occupancy` - Table 4/Market Homes) designed to meet the requirements of those who wish to downsize and release larger homes for family occupation.

Next, there needs to be a thorough and imaginative examination of all of the available brownfield sites, irrespective of their current designation and excepting Manston Airport, in order to meet the current and foreseeable need.

Then and only then should consideration be given to greenfield sites to meet any genuine local shortfall.

Thanet is blessed with a very significant amount of Grade 1 agricultural land that, in the national interest, is and will be needed to maintain the sustainability of the United Kingdom as a food producer.

It is clear that insufficient value has been placed upon this land that, once built over, would not only be lost forever but would have significant additional implications in the form of  damage to the already fragile water sources and demand for sewage treatment and disposal.

Economic development and employment

It is astonishing that, given that “Thanet`s business parks have been slow to develop and there is a considerable amount of land available” (Par. 1.9) consideration should be given at all to the prospect of still more land being designated (at Manston Airport) for industrial use. 

Manston Park, Eurokent Business Park, Thanet Reach Business Park and the Hedgend Industrial Estate are already available and under-occupied and the former Pfizer site, not in but immediately adjacent to Thanet, has potential that is still very largely unrealised.

To quote the Draft Plan again:

(1.30) “Forecasts show that Thanet will need in the region of 15 hectares of employment land over the plan period…….”


(1.31) “The 15 hectares is significantly below the amount of land that was allocated in the 2006 Thanet local plan……..”


(1.32) “This brings into question the need to maintain an oversupply in Thanet`s employment land portfolio”.

Or, put another way, there is, surely, land earmarked already for industrial use that could and should be considered for release for housing.

Thanet most certainly needs not only housing but local jobs for, particularly young, local people. If we are to reverse the exodus of brains and skills from the Island then we should be concentrating our efforts not on moving existing jobs from elsewhere to the Discovery Park on the back of the attractions offered by an Enterprise Zone and claiming “job creation” but maximising our efforts to create genuinely new growth and fresh entrepreneurial endeavour on the sites that we already have available to us in abundance.

Westwood “Town Centre”

Westwood is described by the Council as a “town centre” when it is not, yet, a town at all.  It is certainly true that the retail offer has helped to stem to flow of out-of-area shopping and may even have drawn in some customers from the wider East Kent but this has been achieved at a cost to the traditional Town centres of, particularly, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate and with woefully inadequate advance thought given to, or planning for, transport infrastructure.

The Draft Plan states that

(2.21) “The area currently suffers from poor connectivity between sites, both vehicular and pedestrian”

That is an understatement. The ”connectivity” is approaching gridlock and if it is the intention to create a “Westwood New Town” with all of the housing, medical and community centres and schools that will be required to support what will, effectively, be a sizeable  new village then serious investment will have to be made to resolve the current and future road network and public (road and rail) transport services.

Even now little thought seems to have been given to how and by whom that provision of infrastructure will be funded.

While much has already been achieved (SP08, SP09, SP10) with the regeneration of the Old Town Centres Westwood remains the `elephant in the room`. Everyone can see it but nobody appears to be prepared to take a strategic and comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, responsibility for it.

Manston Airport

Manston Airport is (local Plan 2006) designated as exactly that. An airport.

The Draft Local Plan states:

(Strategic Priority 1) Objectives:

“Support the sustainable development and regeneration of Manston Airport to enable it to function as a local regional airport, providing for significant employment opportunities, other supporting development and improved surface access subject to environmental safeguards”.

Unfortunately, after that promising start the Draft Plan now adds:

“….or as an opportunity site promoting mixed-use development that will deliver high quality employment and a quality environment”

which dilutes the airport designation and paves the way for a housing and industrial estate.

As highlighted earlier, Thanet has acres of under-occupied industrial land and there is no shortage of land to meet actual, rather than theoretical local housing demand either.  By contrast, the United Kingdom is short of runway capacity in the South East, short of a major aircraft diversion facility, needs a Search and Rescue base from which to cover the Straits of Dover and needs to relieve airfreight capacity to release slots at larger passenger airports.  Manston Airport can have a viable future dedicated to aviation and supporting industries . Such a project has a willing buyer and operator and huge and immediate skilled and semi-skilled local employment potential and the designation of Manston as an airport, exclusively, should be reflected in the Local Plan and maintained.


Much hard work has, indubitably, gone into the Draft Local Plan and the authors should be thanked for providing a base from which to now commence a serious and in-depth revision of the entire document.

I have deliberately eschewed the fine detail that is included in other submissions in order to avoid repetition but I would hope and expect, in the interests of those that I am elected to represent, that careful attention and scrutiny will be given to each and every one of the individual and collective submissions that have been made and that, under the guidance of a newly appointed  fully-qualified Chief Executive and Officers, the plan will be re-written in its entirety and submitted to the newly-elected administration that will arise from the May District Council elections  for approval and onward transmission to the Inspector for further scrutiny.

Sir Roger Gale, MP
North Thanet                                                                                                                         4th March 2015.