As many of you will know once again there is activity on the old Pleasurama site, at the moment this activity appears to be another fence outside the previous fence, the effect of this is to leave less space on the promenade and to reduce the amount of available parking.
Obviously the question in all of our minds is, will construction work start this time and if so what will the building be like?
The official answer from TDC building control, is that the building will have to conform to the plans that they have approved, these plans are on the councils planning website. They are published as very large PDF files so before going there to look at them you need a fairly powerful computer with a PDF reader installed.
The councils planning website is at http://www.ukplanning.com/thanet should you wish to look at the plans, most of the various sets of plans produced in attempts to overcome the problems related to building between the foreshore and the cliff face are there. The planning reference is F/TH/03/1200 and I am told that those dated Jan 2009 are the ones that they intend to build to at the moment.
Recently I have had some constructive discussions with both TDC building control and the new contractor Cardy Construction, my aim in these discussions is primary to get a viable, safe and insurable development and to get the contractor to engage in public consultation so the people of Ramsgate know what is going on.
My own opinion of the fundamental problem facing the developer is that the council has passed a series of plans none of which are for a safe and viable building, this is partly because in the five years that all this has taken The Environment agency has moved the goal posts because of new predicted sea level rises and partly because the first set of plans were drawn in a way where it was pretty much impossible to tell the level of the ground floor of the building relative to the flood line or the roof level relative to the cliff top.
Once The Environment Agency were aware that the building could be at risk from storm damage there was a delay of several years before they were provided with plans that showed the level of the ground floor above sea level, this means that the didn’t report their concerns until February 2008 by which time planning consent had been given. Click on the link to read the Environment agency’s report http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/ea/id2.htm
Apportioning blame after all this time would seem to be a pointless exercise, what matters to me is trying to resolve the problems that exist now the main one being that the developer has permission to build a building that is potentially dangerous.
The closest I can get to analogy of the situation is that of a shipyard at the time of an economic recession being given plans to build The Titanic, these plans have been approved by the appropriate government departments five years ago, but in the intervening time another government department has produced a report concerning lifeboats. This other government department now recommends that an independent consultant be engaged to produce a detailed report on lifeboat provisions but can’t enforce this as the plans were already approved five years ago.
The shipbuilder has concerns that the ship will not be insurable if the ships plans haven’t been subjected to the lifeboat report, he also has concerns that if the lifeboat report is unfavourable, the whole plans for the ship will have to be scrapped, meaning that new plans will have to be drawn up and approved again. This of course could lead to the end of the contract and employment for his staff.
Back to the real world and Pleasurama, first to put some context to it, this is a much bigger development than the Turner Contemporary and it’s in a prime seafront site, commercial with residential on top, it is in fact as big as a tower block.
I suppose the nearest comparison we have in Thanet is Arlington House in Margate, what I am trying to stress by making this analogy is that if mistakes are made, they will be mistakes on a very large scale and the people of Ramsgate will have to live with them for a very long time.
So here are some of the problems that appear to need resolving:
Firstly the flood risk assessment strongly recommended by The Environment Agency, my opinion is that this should be carried out before any building work commences.
At the moment there appears to be no professional opinion as to what improvements if any need to be made to the sea defences in front of the building or how close to the sea defences it is safe to build.
Next is the state of the recent cliff repairs, it is obvious that something has gone wrong with them, cracks have appeared and there is even a small tree growing out of one of them.
Put quite simply if part of the cliff collapses it may demolish part of the new development, something that would not be good for the people living inside.
Part of the problem here is because there are no foundations under some of the cliff façade and I believe it is this that is causing so many crack to open up so soon after the repairs.
My feelings here is that the cliff façade should be surveyed by a professional expert, independent of the company that did the work and the company that supervised the work for the council.
I believe that this should be done before any construction work that involves vibration starts.
Now we come to the emergency escapes to the cliff top that The Environment Agency have asked for, how these would work needs investigation, as far as I can see they would either consist of bridges to the cliff top from the top of the building or some sort of tunnel system through the cliff.
All of the costs of these and implications like security would need to be investigated although they wouldn’t need to be added until the building is inhabited.
Another consideration is the passenger service vehicle access for the building, at the moment the plans show it as being via the inclined Victorian viaduct to marina Esplanade. I have sought assurances from KCC and TDC that this means of access would last for the expected life of the building and none has been forthcoming.
Put simply if say in twenty years time the arches of the viaduct have deteriorated to the point that they can no longer support busses it would be a simpler and much cheaper solution to move the building along towards the east to make room for a bus stop at the other end.
The probable cost of repairing or rebuilding the incline would be enormous as was the case when the westcliff arches were strengthened with concrete infill and the as this cost would be likely to fall on taxpayers it is a problem that should be properly investigated.
From the beginning the problem that this development will be viewed from above as well as below never seems to have been properly considered. Different roof treatments have been proposed and then rejected as impractical, when the developer agreed that the sheet tin roofs were inappropriate the architect suggested a planted sedum roof however since then they have decided that this would be impractical.
The sample of the intended roof material that I have seen is a sort of dark rubber like material and doesn’t fit with the cliff top surroundings, bandstand, coloured concrete dance floor and surrounding listed buildings, my belief is that the developer ought to come up with some alternatives and consult with local people especially those living there.