Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Ramsgate Royal Sands Development Access problems.

The various stages of the part road constructions for the different schemes that have been mooted for the Pleasurama site go back to even before the building burnt down and not only effect the access and parking for the new development but parking and access to the main sands, the existing proprieties in the main sands area and any other new developments in that area.

Historically there have been access problems to this area because of the weight and vibration problems associated with the various voids under the road between the cliff top and the sands.
What remains of Granville Marina beach resort built by J T Wimperis in 1877 is mostly the arched viaduct that forms the incline to the sands. Time and events has not been kind to this resort, the centrepiece was the council owned Victorian theatre (later Nero’s), which the council demolished despite my efforts to stop them. Next to the theatre in significance was the Marina Restaurant also demolished due to an unfortunate series of events involving the council and the developer.

The main remaining structure the brick arches were constructed before motorised road traffic and are made from a mixture of Victorian house bricks of varying hardness, road and railway bridges are made from engineering bricks of uniform hardness so that the stresses and strains they need to cope with can be calculated.

The greatest strain that is likely to damage this structure is that caused by a train of heavy vehicles braking hard when travelling down the incline.

There are several factors here one being the greater force needed to stop a vehicle going down hill rather than up, another being the vibration caused by skidding something that gives the occupants of the houses under the arches problems at the moment. Much more complicated is the way stresses work in arched structures like this that slope, this is because one arch helps to support the next one and if the next arch is lower then there is less resistance to a horizontal force acting in the direction of the lower arch, (I am not sure how technical to get here so I will leave it at that for the moment).

The old Ramsgate Town council engineer Dick Brimmell mitigated this problem by making the road one way, up hill only, when heavier and faster vehicles with more powerful brakes began to use this hill.

Some of you may remember that before the Pleasurama fire there were plans to use the building as a factory outlet, that the council were very keen to promote, I believe there was also some grant money that had to be spent in Ramsgate.

Obviously the council were very keen to become involved with this and put in a road layout for it, interestingly because this road layout made the road two way it had the added effect of removing most of the car parking in the area (spaces facing the sea and the Cliff) how the factory outlet was to have worked with the reduced parking was never explained that I recall.

The plans for the new development have an access road shown between the back of the development and the cliff face, although it is very narrow only wide enough one lorry it is shown on the plans as being a two way barriered private road for the development only.

This effectively leaves all of the access for everything east of the new development, including the access to the developments bus stop and drop off point along the old viaduct.

There are several problems with the viaduct as you can see from the picture it is in poor condition partly due to exposure to the weather of parts of it that were intended to be enclosed. Partly due to lack of maintenance and that the building materials (house brick and chalk) are not really suited to road bridge construction.

There is a further problem illustrated in this picture which is there is a drain underneath the arches which can’t cope and when there is heavy rain the pressure blows the lid off and floods the area with sewage. Not pleasant but my main concern here is that if there are any underground leaks with this faulty drain some of the foundations to the arches may be washed away.

Where the developers and the council’s plans fall down badly here is there doesn’t appear to be any long term strategy to provide access to this area, I have asked the council and the firm that surveys this sort of structure for the council, if the expected life of the arches as a road bridge is likely to be similar to the expected life of the new development and they have been unable to reply.

Perhaps it is the council’s intention to pedestrianise the whole area in the medium to long term, certainly this is the message I am getting from off the record chats with council officers.

Certainly building a large new development in a way that future access is uncertain seems foolhardy, particularly when locating the development slightly further to the east would mean that this wouldn’t be a problem.


  1. Great history lesson, Michael. Unfortunatly, in the real world the developer is restricted to his approved site and the council is responsible for the road. Getting a flexible planning partnership is a concept almost unknown in the UK.
    Look on the bright side, increased traffic on Marina Road may force whoever is responsible, TDC or KCC to carry out road improvements.
    We can but hope!

  2. Michael, when referring to stresses and strains you say you're "not sure how technical to get here". How about giving the technical stuff a go. You never know, us morons may just understand and interested parties may be able to assess your level of competence.

    I noted from an earlier posting that you were once an engineer. Was that structural, mechanical, electrical or some other form of engineering?

  3. Anon My brother's late father in law was a consultant civil engineer.

    He carried out work for British Steel Pilings part of which was to examine questions and suggestions from unqualified people querying structures.

    His experience was that if an unqualified questioner was right once they tended to be right the next matter they queried. It was good practice to scrutinize all questions and suggestions.

  4. Or getting metaphysical about it

    Dissidence is necessary for stability.

  5. answer in two comments as it will not fit into one.

    Readit believe me I do understand the problems and limitations imposed on the various parties involved, this is one of the reasons that I air my concerns and the concerns of others here.

    The historical aspect is fairly important when dealing with sites that have been modified by man over a long period of time, particularly with a structure like this where the bottom line is dealing realistically with what is actually there.

    Perhaps you will concede that this is a bit more than a planning issue, the vehicle weight limit set for this structure is forty tonnes with no control over the number of heavy vehicles allowed on it at any one time.

    This means a worse case scenario is it collapsing with a number of busses and lorries on it, as the council has a vested interest in selling the Pleasurama site and therefore the structure being suitable access, I am inclined to consider that their view may be somewhat flavoured by this situation.

    21.57 Always difficult replying to the totally anonymous, particularly in gauging their motives, so a couple of questions here.

    One being if you wish to engage in some sort of complex dialogue could you please use a pseudonym so I can sort you out from the other people posting anonymously?

    The other being motive, my motive here is to get a safe and sustainable development here that will last for between 50 and 100 years, what is yours?

    As far as engineering experience goes, well my last engineering job here in Thanet was a Rovex in the 70s, where I worked as an engineer repairing faults on injection moulding machines. These faults could be electrical, electronic, mechanical, hydraulic or pneumatic, my department was also responsible for moving the machine tools there weighing anything up to about 40 tonnes, as several hundred local people worked there at the time it is common knowledge here in Thanet.

    Oddly enough what at one time would have been the most difficult aspect of assessing this structure, the stresses related to the shape and dimensions of the arches, can now be solved by using any of a number of computer programs.

    Taking the main upper arches this comes out at about 18KN m (squared) the brackets are because blogger doesn’t have a facility for mathematical notation, as you are probably aware this translates to about 9 tonnes for each axel of a vehicle.

    There is a problem here though, that is that these programs all seem to be designed for bricks or stone of uniform hardness and these arches here are constructed from Victorian house bricks of varying hardness, if you go down there you will find some crumble between your fingers while others are very hard indeed.

  6. Taking this factor into account I couldn’t see how anyone could calculate it accurately, in conventional engineering one way round this is to put a greater strain on the structural intensity and the set a limit as a fraction of this. Something like this is done with steam boilers where they are tested to withstand several times the pressure set by the safety valve.

    As the council have set the weight limit at 40 tonnes I don’t think driving a train of much heavier vehicles down the hill and getting them all to slam the brakes on at the same time would be practical or advisable, do you?

    This however does raise an interesting question and that is who in the council had the qualifications to set the weight limit?

    Anyway lets call that joking apart for a mo and consider my main concern i.e. the faulty drain underneath it all and the possibility that it could be undermining the structure. When I showed the photograph of Pugin’s collapse to the chap that wrote the report on the condition of the cliff façade behind the new development, he said it was probably due to undermining by water, food for thought don’t you think?

    These links take you to pictures of previous cliff collapses here in Ramsgate, it has always been my assumption that they took the council and the civil engineers by surprise.

    As you can see they all involve the failure of man made structures and I think it would be unkind to suggest that the various experts at the time had calculated that they would collapse, I believe they just made the simple mistake of not taking all of the factors into account, engineering, historic, hydraulic and geological.

    Rick I have noticed before that your short metaphysical comments are often the most pertinent.

    You may remember the one “do not adjust your mind reality is at fault”.

    Anyway as my main concern is about the single barrel lower arches of the structure being undermined, this link takes you to some more pictures of it.

  7. I read all your words Michael re this development titled "Ramsgate Royal Sands" - and I must say I have often thought about the subject and the safety of the cliffs etc. I am thankful to you Michael for bringing all this to our attention.

    As I said earlier the sands at Ramsgate beyond the old Casino building should be treasured and access kept clear and neat and inviting.

    Yvonne Chapman

  8. Michael, just for the record I’m the 21:57 Anonymous who was asking for more detail. Surprisingly we share a similar engineering background as I also worked on injection moulding machines at Rovex in the 1970’s as a tool setter, before moving on to a further 30 years in other fields of engineering. However, I do not consider myself qualified to make judgements on structural issues and for this reason I do not wish to enter into a personal dialogue over the matter. I therefore do not wish to create a pseudonym as I would prefer your responses are aimed at all readers, not just me.

    You have no need to worry about my motives, I am Ramsgate born and bred and like yourself I want the best for Ramsgate. However, I’m not sure that Ramsgate is best served by your Rupert Murdoch style headlines and a continual barrage of negative comments. I don’t think working on injection moulding machines over 30 years ago qualifies you to make valid judgements on structural engineering issues, even if you are using computer software. You have also provided historical evidence to back your case, but without examining the underlying causes of the failures the evidence means nothing. Do you really think that nothing has been learned from past failures? I think you’ll find that science and materials have moved on in recent years. Things that experts would know about.

    Without the detail of proper analysis your comments can be very misleading. You’ve based your calculations on brick arches. Do you know what structure is behind the brick facia? Do you know what safety factor has been built into the 40 tonnes limit? European legislation sets a maximum limit of 11,500kgs per axle, which surely is far more relevant to this situation than the 40 tonnes headline grabber. There’s also the question of distance between the axles which determines how many arches the weight is spread over. I’m not sure about the relevance of a train of 40 tonners slamming on their brakes at the same time. Although theoretically possible, this is highly unlikely as are many of the situations you describe. Correctly evaluating these risk must be a very complex task, even with a piece of software. That’s why it’s best left to the experts.

    If as you suggest the council are wrong with their calculations then surely that is the issue, not the development. No matter what development is considered, if the council can’t do their sums they may all be unsafe. Are you going to fight every one of them? If you are really fighting for the good of Ramsgate blame the cause, not the symptom.

    Please don’t misunderstand me about this. I applaud and admire you taking issue with the council. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be. Equally I admire you raising awareness of issues on this blog, but I don’t think you’re qualified to make the analysis you do and possibly incorrectly influencing others to the detriment of Ramsgate.

  9. 18.03 sorry I can’t resist teasing you slightly, you do realise that what you are saying is the waiting for a bus for the best part of an hour and then several all turning up at once, is something that just doesn’t happen.

    I believe you will find that human experience suggests otherwise.

    As far as my engineering experience goes I worked in a verity of science and engineering environments in the 60s and 70s so I just used one that local people could identify with.

    Anyway on a more serious note my concerns relate to a five year long series of dialogues between me and the various experts involved, in many cases I have asked reasonable questions and they haven’t been able to answer them.

    I have always avoided naming people as I think in some cases this could have an effect on their careers, or publishing many of the nonsensical answers they have given me and hope to be able to continue that way.

    You also have to remember that this incline is a minor side issue compared to what the EA have to say about the flood risk or the engineers report on the condition of the cliff behind the site, there will be more about these in some new posts to come.

    If you take the trouble to walk down to the arches as I did this morning you will find there is a hole in the fencing large enough to drive a car through, so you can examine the condition of the thing yourself.

  10. I've often heard about these buses all arriving together but I've never experienced it, at least not in any significant quantity. My human experiences have taught me that such things are often exaggerated for effect, and eventually regarded as fact.

    I think you've missed the point of what I was saying. If the planning department is not doing its job correctly then that's where the problem lies. For some reason you appear to disagree with them but wish to help protect their careers. Taking that stance to it's logical conclusion you are part of the problem.

    I have seen the arches, but sneaking through the fence and taking a peep isn't quite the same as a proper structural survey. We obviously have different approaches to such matters, and I think we had best agree to disagree.


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