Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sunday Ramble

I think today it may be a case of what do you say when there’s not much to say, I got up rather late and am watching the F1 on i payer in the background while typing rather vaguely into the lap top.

A quick glance at the blogs reveals Simon Moores with typo of the day “shopping at our shiny new Coop in Station Road”. Or is it a typo at all in these days of text and the email, for me it’s, what a difference a dash makes.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To shop at the Coop.

When it comes to the local press and the blogger, there is sense in which the news media in itself becomes news, so here it is.

I met Your Thanet’s new Thanet news reporter this week, Florence Tennent, she has replaced Tom Betts who has moved to being their leisure reporter.

You can see from last weeks issue, the link should take you to the online edition that her articles are prominent and professional.

Her newspaper has a sort of in-house blog, here is the only post I can find from her

As a blogger who produces the odd news story I am at the bottom of the journalistic tree when I do this, so the people who engage in professional local journalism here in Thanet are of particular interest to me.

With the last post I seem to have got myself a bit embroiled in the night flights issue, truth is that I am looking at local industry in general at the moment, this is particularly in the light of the economic situation and the general state of Thanet.

I have been particularly been looking at those companies operating locally that have lots of money and the nature of their business means that they have to take environmental risks, to see if it would be possible to get some serious local sponsorship from them.

The stance so far has been that they produce local jobs and this compensates for what they do to our environment health and so on, or looking for another perspective the risk they are taking is a gamble and part of what they gamble with is ours, so what do we get out of this.

A good example of this is the bunkering off of Margate, here we have a wealthy multinational pumping two million tons of hazardous material between ships at sea five miles from a badly rundown town.

My first question then is, what is Margate getting from this wealthy neighbour, doing about half a billion bucks worth of business so close to it?

With the airport Infratil are a multimillion buck company and like all airport operators the nature of their business involves both risk and environmental damage, their closest neighbour Ramsgate is another run down town.

In a general sense I suppose that these big companies would like to be seen as part of the local community, with local people supporting what they are doing, the argument that they should stop their operations seems unlikely to get very far.

Obviously their operations should be properly regulated but they have been operating for some time and Ramsgate doesn’t seem to have benefited much from this wealthy neighbour.

I had a bit of a check on the major council owned assets in Ramsgate this week and the following is a résumé of how things seem to be, in a sensible world the council be a great deal clearer about the state of play with these. What I have to do is to talk to various individuals and try to put together a best guess.

The main ones that concern me are the pavilion, the Pleasurama site, the Eagle Café, the slipways, Westcliff Hall and in a lesser sense the harbour arches and the various council owned shop premises around the town.

Bit of an impasse there with i player and the F1, it just stopped because of overrunning ,so we went for a walk in Broadstairs, I took a few pictures but had my hands full so they weren’t much good, see

Back to the ramble, I am reading, Confederacy of Dunces, at the moment and I think some of the characters are rubbing off a bit, even so I will have a go at the state of Pleasurama first.

Once again work has stopped, the underlying problem here I think is that the councillors and the developer would like to see this development go ahead but the plans are just no good.

Every time a contractor to build the thing gets involved, then because of the size of the development they are by definition going to be large and experienced contractors, in this case a very reputable local contractor, Cardy Construction of Canterbury, on the face of things this looks to be a good contract in a prime site.

In the background there is of course me and in the first instance I think that an incoming contractor sees some sort of local shop assistant commenting on aspects of the development as a sort of humorous aside.

In this case I understand that Cardy Construction made £1m commitment to the development so they must have thought they were onto a good thing and from my point of view, a quality local contractor employing local labour on a major development in Ramsgate, would be very good all round.

I think with the cliff façade foundations, wobbly bits, bits turning into a hanging garden, well the council and their advising engineers, who after all are a multinational company, saying that there is nothing wrong with the cliff façade, well the sad truth takes a while to sink in.

To be honest I think it is only when the contractor starts to work on the site that they begin to realise all is not quite as it should be, well Cardy Construction stuck it out down there for about a month (the surface drain pipe along Harbour Parade was done by a subcontractor) so this was their first experience of having their own workers on site.

Now when it comes to the chaps on site, the ones with the hard hats actually doing the work, then they have a common interest with me and that is the history of the site, it is unavoidable.

Now some shop assistant bloke who knows what the things they are digging up is worth humouring and even putting up with his comments about staying away from the cliff wall at the eastern end of the site can be humoured.

I suppose a bit falling off the cliff wall, from high enough up to penetrate a hard hat, was well enough to penetrate a hard hat.

I think though what finally did this was the attitude of the HSE who had passed on and confirmed the council’s position that it was perfectly safe to work under the cliff three days before the lump fell off.

There is also the other side of the problem, the flood risk, when you look at all of the things relating to the flood risk, the only calculations that I can see that have ever been done on both how high a static tide will come up relative to the floor of the building or how high the waves could get there, then the only calculations apper to have been done by me.

Now the council’s stance is that the site is perfectly safe to build the development on and they can back this up with assurances from people with both hard hats and letters after their names.

The contractor went into the thing knowing both my views on the safety of the cliff and the flood and storm damage.

We now seem to have several possibilities:

1 The contractor will go ahead with the development, if this is going to happen they had better be quick as they are nearly a year behind schedule.

2 The contractor will review the situation and insist on a proper survey of the cliff and a proper flood risk assessment.

3 The contractor will decide to pull out of the project, at this point I think it rather depends on if the developer decides to pull out too, what the outcome will be.

Either the developer decides to find another contractor, there have been several that have pulled out already. In this case I would say the contractor does their best to recover such losses as they have from the developer and we are back to square one.

Or the developer decides to pull out too, if this is the case then the contractor and developer may decide on some sort of litigation with the council to try and recover the money that they have spent so far. Road works, surface drain and so on.

I think that they could only do this based on proving that the council had mislead them into saying that the site was suitable to build the development shown in their plans.

This would I think either have to be based on the flood risk or the cliff safety, with the flood risk the key document is the environment agency’s letter, see as this was sent to me, the developer and the council back in 2008, I don’t think at this late stage a case would stand up in court.

Or based on the cliff being too unstable to build next to, now this is something that I have been writing about since 2005, to the council, the various contractors and of course publicly on the internet, and yet none of the contractors or the developer seem to have done much about investigating the problem.

The only contractor who seems to have done anything at all is Cardy Construction who made a few investigation holes in the façade and where the foundations should be.

On the other hand there is the council, now their stance appears to be that there is nothing wrong with the site and that the contractor could start building work tomorrow.

It is very difficult for local authorities in a situation like this as one thing that they can never do is to say that they have made a mistake, so I don’t think there will ever come a point where they will say something like, if you are going to build down there then it needs to be a smaller development further from the cliff.

But the council does have a problem because the work isn’t going to the time schedule agreed in the development agreement, so that they once again must be reaching the point where they say to the developer, look here you are too far behind and we want to take back the land and find another use for it.

November is just around the corner and this is the time that I usually ask the council to make arrangements for temporary leisure use for the site during the following summer.

There answer usually is that this can’t happen because the developer is about to start putting in the foundations, frankly it is an answer that is wearing a bit thin.

The decision to pull out of the development would have to go to cabinet as it did this time last year, when the council officers recommended to the cabinet that they pull out, but the cabinet decided to put this to full council who decided to let the developer go ahead.

Next the Eagle Café, that is the one on the end of the East Pier that has been closed for several years, as far as I can see the council don’t have any idea what is going on here either.

I think the only way to get this one moving will be some sort of official complaint combined with a foi request to find out if the council is receiving any rent for it, the trouble is that this may be one of their old leases where the rent is very small so that the lessee doesn’t have to really worry that much about keeping it empty.

Next Westcliff Hall, my understanding is that there is a plan to use this as some sort of community centre that is going to be put to cabinet, if you remember when the town council were in the middle of supporting this project the district council put the building into a residential property auction.

The district council withdrew the property from the auction although I believe the council officers thought disposing of it in that way was the best thing to do.

Westcliff Hall is a difficult property, integrated with the cliff, here is a quote from the councils development services, “this site required major repairs and that at this time the cost looked prohibitive. The fact that the roof to the Hall effectively formed the upper promenade was a further complexity. The Working Group agreed that though not part of the Port Estate, this structure could usefully be considered in the context of the proposed Port and Marina Review.”

My understanding is that at the moment the council officers consider that this one could go either way.

The slipways an interesting aside here is that is that while it is the subject of a planning application the council can’t negotiate the lease, but on the other hand the conditions of the lease i.e. that the site can only be used as a boatyard is likely to a very strong reason to reject the planning application.

These Catch 22 situations seem to be quite common in local government, for all I know this could be a more important factor than the lowest floor of the development being under water at high tide.

With this one we now have to wait and see what the planning department has to say.

Next the one I forgot to mention The Maritime Museum, the council seem to be happy that this one is progressing well and I think they hope to complete the lease before the end of the year.

Two factors here are the condition of the building which I think is going to be settled by letting the museum operator have a rent free period in lieu of the cost of repairs, something that makes sense as then the council won’t have to pay to repair it. The other is setting a rent that can be afforded by the museum, so I believe there will have to be some clause in the lease that says the rent can never rise above a proportion on the museum’s income.

I will ramble on as the day progresses


  1. Michael, the two biggest problems with Westcliff Hall are, firstly the building is of composite construction (ie. concrete encased steel) some spalled concrete is exposing shaling steelwork. To investigate it all requires destroying it all, as you cannot be sure of which areas are affected.

    The second major problem is that the defective structure supports an asphalt covered promenade. The longer the building is ignored the worse the roof leaks and affects the structure.

    To repair this building and save the promenade above it will probably necessitate closing half the width of the promenade at a time and a virtual re-build (not the computer variety)

  2. Readit thanks I got the feeling that this one could be a bit of a liability, I gather that it is that last to survive of this type of in cliff theatre with its external auditorium intact and as such could be eligible for grant funding via the theatres trust.

    The Westcliff Hall didn’t start auspiciously, I believe WW1 broke out the day it opened.

  3. On the flip side, to keep the promenade intact you have to repair the structure under it, as a public right of way I think the roof should be reasonably protected. The loss of the wide clifftop promenade at this point would be a tragedy.

    As the last surviving example of an "in cliff" building it should be restored, it could be a marvellous venue again with the right restoration.


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