Wednesday 20 April 2016

Thanet Council, Margate Seafront Development Steering Group and the proposed RNLI Lifeboat Station

The proposed RNLI Lifeboat Station

After reading in the Thanet Gazette in February this year about the Margate Seafront Development Steering Group (MSDSG) and it's involvement in the ongoing proposal for a hotel at the Rendezvous site behind Turner Contemporary, I was surprised.

I’d never heard of MSDSG or how it steered Margate's seafront development.

The Rendezvous site is currently occupied by the RNLI lifeboat station. The development of the site for a hotel requires the  life boat station to be relocated. 

The current proposal to put a new lifeboat station on the main sands has caused great controversy and we're told there's no better location. So I thought it worth looking into how the MSDSG had addressed the issue and when.

I tried to find information about the MSDSG on the TDC website. I've found no evidence of it reporting to Thanet District Council, stakeholder groups or Cabinet.
A Google search also revealed nothing.

So, I made two Freedom of Information requests. One to Thanet District Council and the other the Kent County Council

Thanet District Council initially responded by stating they held no information about the Margate Seafront Development Steering Group and suggested the Kent County Council might. This might lead you to believe that Thanet District Council had nothing to do with the group. I then requested an Internal Review of this decision. This takes extra time, beyond the initial 20-day limit. They then replied stating that they did in fact hold information on the MSDSG, but they were withholding the information under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) on the grounds of that it would be:
"(prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs)," presumably because release of further information "would, or would likely to, inhibit - (i) the free and frank provision of advice, or (ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, or (c) would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.”
 It is a little ironic that a local authority can first misinform a member of the public seeking information about the town in which they live, and then invoke an exemption to the FOI on the grounds that answering candidly would be “prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs.”

In terms of the public interest test there is a compellingn argument that discussions relating to public realm issues should be carried out in an open manner with the public having access to all the available information.

crutinise the MSDSG or how it has reported back to the authority, as there is no record. If I’d taken Thanet District Council at their first word, we wouldn't even know that the group has included  Chief Executive and the Leader over three administrations.

Current TDC members of MSDSG are:

Madeline Homer, Chief Executive
Councillor Chris Wells, Leader
Rob Kenyon, Director of Community Services

Kent County Council were more forthcoming. Firstly, they requested extra time to consider whether they were also considering applying a S36 exemption. They then released minutes from the MSDSG going back three years to January 2013. 

It turns out the group was formally set up in February 2013 and the membership outlined in their Terms and References as:

“There will be Member and senior officer representation from both local authorities. In recognition of their strategic role, the Steering Group will be chaired by the Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Customer and Communities. There will also be senior officer representation from the appropriate KCC directorates. The Vice Chairman of the group will be the Leader of Thanet District Council which will also provide appropriate senior officer participation. Turner Contemporary is invited to join the group either at Board Level or at Director/Deputy level.”

The group was to report to back as follows:

The local authority representatives will report back through their own authority Cabinets and Turner Contemporary through the Trust Board.”

Which we know there's no evidence of. 

The stated topics of interest for the MSDSG were two sites: the Rendezvous and Winter Gardens along with the ensuring the success of Turner Contemporary and Dreamland:

“The development of the key sites of the Rendezvous and Winter Gardens has long been seen to be vital to the long term regeneration of Margate. The tremendous success of the first phase which was the construction of Turner Contemporary, reinforces the urgency to build on this success and achieve the critical mass which the full development of both these sites will provide. It is this critical mass of visitor attractions which is needed for the regeneration of Margate.”

Yet, we see reported throughout the meeting minutes covering a three year period, that other key sites in Margate have been the topic of discussion and of interest for the group. Including the Cliftonville Lido, Theatre Royal and the RNLI’s move to the Main Sands.

The RNLI move from the Rendezvous site to the main sands and the proposed hotel on the Rendezvous site both involving planning applications to Thanet District Council and was discussed at the very first meeting in January 2013. The planning permission only being requested later in 2015.

There’s also discussion of how members of Thanet District Council’s Planning Committee might be in favour of a proposal, before the planning application was presented to members of the Planning Committee: in October 2015.

MSDSG is made up of the bosses from the two decision-making authorities: Kent County Council and Thanet District Council. There are apparently no records of how these members reported back to Cabinet or officers at the Council.
It is baffling that one of these decision-making authorities first denied the existence of the Steering Group and then sought to withhold information about its deliberations. Margate needs to discuss its future in an open and transparent way. At the moment time and public resources are being used to develop plans in isolation and then foist them on the public.

You can still give your objections or support for the RNLI proposal to build on Margate Main Sands. The deadline is today, Wednesday April 20th. You can do this on the Planning Portal with the reference F/TH/15/1239.

There have been an unprecedented number of objections to the proposal. Perhaps if TDC and KCC bosses had actually reported back to their respective authorities in an open and transparent manner from 2013, two years before the planning permission was submitted, the public could have expressed their opinions at an earlier stage alerting the authorities to how much they treasure the main sands.  

There's also the petition on against the proposal from Save Our Sands.

Save Our Sands Facebook Group:

Here’s excerpts from the MSDSG Minutes over the three years from 2013 on the RNLI Lifeboat Station move:

January 9th 2013:

CH [Clive Hart, Leader TDC] also expressed concern that the Lifeboat Organisation is unable to stay at the site due to the size of the new lifeboat and wish to move further down the coast. MH [Mike Hill, KCC] will obtain an update on this but all stakeholders have been consulted and this will be factored into the master plan. CH felt that a public viewing platform would be a good idea as this area would provide excellent views which would draw people in.

March 20th 2013
The RNLI are submitting a planning application to relocate onto the beach front (to the same position they had when Turner Contemporary was being built). No funding is available for this at the moment. It is hoped to have the facility open for when the new lifeboat arrives (2016) as the new boat is too large for the current site.  Margate Yacht Club could possibly occupy the RNLI building which could be a cost effective solution. Property are discussing with RNLI to find out if planning approval has been received (Thanet District Council confirmed that the planning application had not yet been submitted). Other possibilities are being looked at by Guy Holloway. The proposals from Guy Holloway will need to be signed off by the Margate Steering Group before taking forward. Guy Holloway is due to make a presentation on 2 April when the plans will be updated from the comments made. Clive Hart (CH) expressed concern that local Councillors have not been consulted and it was suggested that once the master plan has been produced this should be shared with local Councillors. There may be opposition if the RNLI moved sites if views were obscured. There may also be issues with the volleyball facilities. 

Amanda Honey (AH) stressed the need to resolve the lifeboat site issue. It would be useful if Thanet District Council could check what position the RNLI are in. Guy Holloway needs to be informed to work on the status quo.

July 31st 2013
The RNLI would like to move away from the site but are unable to do this at present due to the financial implications.

March 12th 2015
The RNLI have contacted Thanet District Council regarding moving from the existing site. Positioning needs to be discussed and Mho [Madeline Homer, TDC] will pick-up this issue.

October 1st 2015
The RNLI will be moving from the site and this will open up wider possibilities. Mho confirmed the planning application has been submitted. It is hoped that the new site will be on the Margate sands. The general view is that planning will be granted. The existing building is owned by KCC. Margate Yacht Club is keen to take over the site of the RNLI but this is unlikely to be approved. KE to come back with the date for the RNLI exhibition of plans.