Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama site in Ramsgate, up before cabinet again next week.

As is usually the case with this development it is the secrecy surrounding any democratic discussion about it that I find most worrying.

We always come back to the fact that it is to be built on the most prominent, council owned seafront leisure site in Ramsgate. Because of this much of the towns leisure based economy hinges on getting it right.

My main concern with this development focuses on the safety issues, cliff stability, flood risks and emergency escape routes. As a local historian I am very much aware that Ramsgate Eastern Undercliff has a history of storm damage and cliff collapses that is sporadically recorded back to the mid 1800s. This history isn’t written up in one place and I periodically discover new information about it.

More of this information came up over the weekend when I was reading the book that I hope to have in print next week about the Granville, this time it related to Marina Road, the sloping road down the cliff in front of the Granville. According to the plans for The Royal Sands this road forms the access for busses and delivery lorries to the development.

After various cliff collapses there in about 1960 the borough engineer made this road a one way only, up the hill and I have taken the issue of having heavy vehicles going down this hill with various council engineers, particularly with respect to the forces associated with a line of heavy vehicles having to stop in an emergency while going down the hill.

The answers I got were along the lines of those Victorian engineers knew what they were doing and there was no problem. It was interesting for me to read that part of this structure collapsed the day before the opening ceremony and the opening parade had to be diverted around it.

As this development is to be built between the sea and the cliff face on an EA designated high risk flood zone, with access via Marina Road, then the condition of the cliff and sea defences between the lift and where Nero’s was (the hairpin bend on Marina Road) is important to the viability of the development.

Because the development is built between the face of the cliff and the sea, a safe and dry means of escape from the development also needs to be considered.

A considerable part of these problems aren’t really anyone’s fault, developer or council, as the site was designated a high risk flood zone after the planning permission was granted. However when it comes to the financial viability of the development, much is likely to hinge on the ability to borrow money for a new development built on a high risk flood zone, without a flood risk assessment.

Obviously as the plans were passed before it was designated it doesn’t have to have one, but I think at some point the proximity of the sea needs to be properly assessed and one hopes this doesn’t happen in the way it did for the Turner Centre.

The Isle of Thanet Gazette last published an article about The Royal Sands last month, here is the link http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Ramsgate-Pleasurama-site-set-redeveloped-3-3m/story-16469934-detail/story.html and I guess this is the last time the various parties official position has been set out.

There are various things in this article that don’t quite make sense to me, the most obvious being that it says about 30% of the apartments have been reserved. Obviously as the apartments that are available to reserve are published on the internet, it is an easy matter to see that 14 out of 107 were reserved when the article was published last month and this figure is the same today.    

The council offices stance on the development has changed from when this came before cabinet three years ago when they recommended winding up the development and taking the land back, to their position now which is recommending that the cabinet approve going ahead with the development.

My guess on this one this that the council are concerned here about the developer taking them to court to get back the money he has spent so far.

I guess my position on this one is, if the council go decide to go ahead, I would like them to ensure that the development is a as viable and successful as it possibly can be and if they decide to pull out, that the site is returned to a usable state as soon as is possible.

So going ahead for me ought to mean a proper flood risk assessment and an assessment of the cliff condition from the lift to the old Nero’s site, before continuing with the development.

Much of this is cost related, as any problems with either the cliff or the sea defences may be much cheaper to solve before the development is built.

I guess of all the aspects of The Royal Sands it is the flood and storm situation that is the most bizarre.

Conversations with those involved go along the lines. “there is no problem as we have complied with all the legalisation, so there isn’t a problem.”

To which I reply. “You do accept that the site is an EA designated high risk flood zone.”

The answer to this one is now always. “Yes”

I then say. “You do accept that there hasn’t been a flood risk assessment.”

This has pretty much moved from the “Not that we know of” to the “Yes” camp.

Within a £22,000,000 project, the cost of a flood risk assessment would be a drop in the ocean and it is most likely that any work that needed doing would be funded by national government.

The other aspect of this is the newly built foundations, where conversations with the parties involved assure me that the shallow foundations on the old beach are adequate and properly calculated, something I don’t disagree with.

The problem occurs when I ask them about the sea defence that protects the sand these foundations are sitting on from the sea. “Yes” they agree that the sea defence dates from 1860. “Yes.” They agree that they have no plans or maintenance record for it.     

Now obviously this sea defence may be perfectly ok, on the other hand it may need some repairs and maintenance before people are going to live in the development behind it, which is sitting on sand.

On of the councillors asked me. “How long it would take before there was a problem, if we had a big tidal surge storm.”

What he was getting at was if the sea defence started to wash out, how long would the council have to put in some alternative to protect the foundations from washing out, which would cause the building to collapse.

The only other example we have of this is when the other sea defence built in 1860 by the same railway company failed in 1953, then we lost about ten square miles of land to the sea in one night.

The cliff is a difficult one, the whole of the cliff face from the lift to the hairpin bend where Nero’s used to be is faced with a variety of man made structures, to a lesser or greater degree these act as cliff supports. And to a lesser or greater degree these are intended to stop the effects of the weather from damaging the chalk and causing a cliff collapse.

The idea with most of these structures is to waterproof the front of the cliff and the cliff top to stop rainwater from getting in, the slightly acidic nature of rainwater causes the chalk to soften and disintegrate.

with a natural grass topped cliff this is largely compensated for as soon as one gets a few feet into the chalk as the chalk itself acts as a filter purifying the water. I have simplified this issue considerably to help people form a mental picture of the situation. 

A problem here and one that has contributed to some very large cliff falls in Ramsgate, is that when the surface on the top of the cliff cracks this concentrates the rainwater into a small area, causing the damage to the chalk to extend much further in.

Another problem is that the supporting façade structure holds back small chalk falls until the structure fails and a much larger fall occurs.  

The council’s engineers and the engineers that advise the council describe the cliff façade behind the Royal Sands as structures to prevent weathering and not as support structures. Essentially it is the chalk cliff that holds up the concrete façade and not the concrete façade that holds up the chalk cliff.

Generally there are three main signs that all is not well with these support structures, vegetation growing from any cracks, spalling (concrete cancer) where the metal reinforcing rods inside the concrete go rusty and damage the surrounding concrete and movement of parts of the structure.   

Back when the development was first granted planning permission this structure showed all of these signs, and I made a considerable amount of fuss along the lines of the fuss I am now making about the sea defence.

Whether it was because of this fuss or for some other reason the council eventually decided to survey most of the cliff façade behind the site. The results of this survey were pretty bad, the gist of the results was the structure was in a poor state, had a short serviceable life and needed emergency repairs.  Two years after the survey I managed to get hold of the report and made some more fuss, which may or may not have resulted in the emergency repairs.

One way or another the council spent about £1,000,000 on repairing the cliff, but at some point or another the council officers and councillors seem to have got it into their heads that this repair has given the cliff façade a new life comparable to the expected life of the development.

I guess since the £1m repairs, the repairs to the repairs, the weedings, the condition of the cliff now, you can see the latest crop of vegetation the picture above, are all rather self explanatory. 

After the cliff repair various things came to light that I find considerable cause for concern.

The first was the crack and bulge in one of the panels that I reported to the council and was subsequently repaired, it wasn’t this occurring that really concerned me but that the crack which didn’t appear in any of the reports prior to the £1m repair had been filled rather than the panel replaced during the £1m repair.

The next was the lose bit of masonry which I reported to the council and the hse and about which they took no action about until a large chunk of it fell off partly into the site and partly outside.

After that was the business where the council gave me the wrong plans to the arched part of the cliff façade, when the developer undermined it I made a considerable amount of fuss fire brigade hse and so on. 

As it happened there was no safety issue as the arched part is cast concrete and not concrete blocks as the plans showed.

But what was really worrying was the council, developer and the survey for the £1m contract, all used these wrong plans.    

I guess the underlying problem here is that the council have got into a position where having spent £1m on the cliff, they have to say that it’s ok condition wise.

My own feelings about the cliff are that the arched concrete part is probably in fairly good order, this was built in the 1930s after a series of large cliff collapses and I would guess that because of these no chances were taken. The square portal part at the lift end I haven’t really filled I the history of this part properly. I am pretty certain that it was constructed at various times and in various bits between 1940 and 1970, this is the part where the majority of the vegetation is growing out of the wall. It was one of the panels in this part that had to be replaced after the contract. This was also this part that was the subject of the contractors investigation. 

I have laid out what I hope is a very concise explanation of my concerns about aspects of this development because of the cabinet meeting about it next Thursday.

Once again the cabinet have to decide whether to go ahead with this development, this issue is to be discussed at the end of the cabinet meeting, in secret with the press and public excluded.
Picture added to respond to comment


  1. Marina Road collapsed on Thursday, 5th July, 1877 at around 11 am. This was on the morning of the grand opening of Mr Edmund F Davis`s Granville Marina. The collapse was very embarrassing for Davis, as Marina road formed part of the opening procession route for dignitaries such as the Lord Mayor of London.

    Ben Kelly

    1. Thanks Ben I tend to write up these things from memory and check the exact details afterwards.

  2. As the developers have done diddlysquat for the last few years, I find it incredible that the council should even consider giving them another lifeline. It should be a hard line! Either put up [the buildings you promised] or shut up and go and work for some cowboy organisation that shares your sense of values, priorities, adherance to contractual agreements.
    This debacle dont 'arf sound like the DReamland situation .... do nowt and bleat like a stuck pig if anyone tries to take it away from you.
    The next with a crazy idea to make TDC the suckers, form a line right here.

    1. Chuck I think it mat be the officers fears of the developer engaging in litigation to recover their expenses so far that is stopping the council from pulling out.

      The development agreement is very loosely worded.

  3. I cannot understand why TDC refuse to stick their heads above the parapet and allay these continuing doubts. Or maybe I do. I do wish that a good forensic journalist would take an interest. There is a meaty story for them here.

    Michael, On a personal note, I fear that some of the anonymice are out to get me. Is it something I've said?

  4. The building may not be coming along but the landscaping is really blooming.

    Ramsgate could have the largest game of hoop-la in the world. Throwing full size hola-hoops from the top of the cliff, onto the columns to win a gigantic teddy bear. At £1 a go it could start a fund for the building, more chance than borrowing from our helpful bankers.

  5. If Michael is correct the 'floods' would destroy all of the houses that lead up to the old Nero's site. Should the owners/occupiers be evacuated. the whole of Sandwich is built on land with a far greater flood risk. Should Sandwich town therefore be demolished?

    The old Tiberius building would be unusable? I have lived in Ramsgate for nearly 100 years I have never since anything like the storms that Michael has suggested......Having looked at the plan for Royal Sands....I would feel very safe in any of the apartments...especially given that they are 4 metres above promenade level.....mind you might not be able to pop down to Pete's fish factory until the tide went out

    1. You have an excellent grasp of the internet for someone pushing 100, well done!

    2. 11.26 I have added a picture of the damage to the harbour wall during the 1978 storm to the post above.

      I guess you missed this one, and the 1953 one that deposited a 12 ton crane that had been working on beach over the sea defence and into middle of The Royal Sands site being about 100 you would have missed the 1897 storm that demolished the buildings down there and resulted in the building of the pavilion.

      The Granville Marina (houses that lead up to Nero’s) are behind a modern EA maintained concrete sea defence, (there is a whole historical story about the early problems with this sea defence) even so the recently rebuilt No1 Granville Marina had a flood risk assessment which stipulated that it was built on piles bored into the chalk bedrock.

      The problem with The Royal Sands is that it sits on sand behind an unmaintained 160 year old sea wall, this sand was the old sand beach, the level of the site was raised by laying the chalk spoil from the railway tunnel so the station could be built on it.

      The chalk bedrock under the sand is at about the same level as low tide is now, so much lower than any of the things you mention.

      For clarification I will reiterate the foundations that were built recently for The Royal Sands, were built on sand, the sea is next to the development, waves wash away sand, therefore the structural integrity of the sea defence between the sea and the foundations needs checking before people live in the development, the sea defence may be ok and it may not be ok.

      I asked the contractors MD if they checked the sea defence and he told me they hadn’t, so I asked the council’s engineer for the plans and maintenance record relating to the sea defence. He confirmed that it is a council owned and maintained structure, that the council have no plans for it and have no record of ever maintaining it or surveying it.

      Now frankly whether you are for or against the development, have a financial interest in the thing or not, if there is anything wrong with the sea defence the repairs would be paid for out of national government funds, so what is your objection to assessing whether it is safe enough to build a residential development, founded on sand behind it?

    3. And so.......why have they stopped construction for the last few months?
      -because they cannot raise enough money without selling more off plan?
      -because they are waiting on the cabinet decision?
      -because they only needed to do enough to prevent the planning permission lapsing and ensure a large compensation if/when the council pulls the development?

      Does anybody know?

    4. Elderblog, it is very hard to work out what their intentions are, the stopping of work had all the look of being unplanned as they were in the middle of the job and just walked away. I had a lot of difficulty and some on site rudeness from one of the workers there before I could get them to secure the steel store they had left open, not a good place for children to play.

      The council say it was the developer who asked the council to sell them the freehold and I would guess they would have expected both the cabinet and lawyers delays as it requires a new development agreement.

      I would guess they would have expected the freehold sale to go through the asset disposal process too, but the council seem to think this is one asset they can dispose of without the normal scrutiny and consultation process, so it looks like the thing is going through much faster than the developer would have expected, unless of course the council had already assured the developer that the asset disposal process could be circumvented.

      From the local paper article the developer seems to have told the council that off plan reservations have been much better than they really are, I don’t know what the significance of that would be.

      The council says that the planning permission will never lapse on this one and is valid in perpetuity, because the developer laid the access road before the 5years in the planning consent conditions expired. I guess if you or I tried this, even with something as insignificant as a garden shed, we wouldn’t gat away with it.

      I can understand the council officers concerns but have to say that the continued support of elected members for this non-development doesn’t make much sense. I don’t think there have been many voted gained due to the last ten years of unsightly building site.

  6. It seems to me that what they are saying is the scheme has complied with every UK 'statutory' requirement required. It might not meet Michael Childs rules.....but hey ho....

    The whole 'Global Funding' world is in complete turmoil.....yet the fact that the developer and funders retain such a positive approach to the project should give us all confidence that Thanet is finally back on the map....TDC should be applauded for retaining this investment for the town.

    1. ....hello there clive...

    2. 10.41 sorry about the delay in replying, tied up with work.

      Seems to me that the people involved in this development who want to build it on an EA designated high risk flood zone without a flood risk assessment may have rather unusual motives.

      Would they be for or against a successful development that would benefit Ramsgate?

      Or would they have some other political or financial motives? Well you tell us.

      I am curious about this, particularly as any costs would almost certainly be met by the national sea defence budget and not the council or developer.

  7. I remember the storm of 1978; I was aged 14 and was amazed at the damage to Ramsgate harbour wall and also to the sea defences at Dumpton Gap. I now live in Devon but as a frequent visitor to Broadstairs I have been watching with interest the progress (or lack of it!) with this developmnent. I am staggered with some of the observations that Michael Child has made and in particular the fact that the footings of the development rest on sand. I can't understand why they weren't piled into the chalk. Surely this is negligent building practice. So my question to Michael is has he asked this question of TDC?

    David Hoggard

    1. David the situation here has changed over the last 10 years when the planning application was approved the building was to have been founded on driven piles into the bedrock, the subsequent cliff survey said that this wouldn’t be safe because of the vibration, so the developer agreed to use bored piles into the bedrock, this was subsequently changed in 2010 to shallow foundations on sand that is behind an 1860 sea defence, which the council have told me in writing has no maintenance or survey record and no design plans.

      The council assure me that they are happy with this situation and it conforms to their statutory obligations.

    2. Thanks Michael for the info. Clearly the whole integrity of the building relies on a sea wall, which is 150 years old and not tested. The storm of 1978 proved how powerful the sea can be, damaging the modern sea defences at Dumpton, so you would think TDC would be taking more interest.

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