Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Royal Sands Development Ramsgate, the Navy Lark and famous architects mistake.

Once the second set of plans had been passed I found out the contractor (the second of the four that have intended to build this development) wanted to pile drive on the site.

Now this area is a honeycomb of old tunnels and caves the largest that appears on old maps being Wellington Caves, this is shown as right next to Wellington Crescent and about the size of four of the houses. One of my fears was that if they started pile driving there some of the houses would vanish into the ground.

Anyway the long and the short of it all was that I contacted the people involved asking them to do a proper survey of the area to see if it was safe to pile drive.

I then set about finding out what potential problems building so close to the cliff face could have so I could offer some historical input that probably wouldn’t be available from other sources.

As you can see from this picture (photography was banned here during the war, so it wasn’t that easy to get) there was considerable activity here in World War Two.

Then I discovered this picture of 6 inch naval guns mounted near the edge of the cliff next to where the new development will be.

Two things occurred to me at this point, one was that firing them could have weakened the cliff and that there was probably some sort of underground magazine that should also be investigated.

It was around this point that it occurred to me that there was a possibility that the cliff could collapse onto the new development, which wouldn’t be pleasant for anyone inside.

This was towards the end of 2005 and at that point I managed to get the opportunity to photograph and study a radar survey that the council had, had done as part of the bandstand and dance floor restoration project.

As some of you will know before I became a shop assistant I worked in engineering, however this survey was out of my depth so I consulted someone I know with a phd in geology.

The survey shows several voids under the concrete dance floor but much more important than this, where the dance floor and the surface next to the cliff has cracked, the water draining into the chalk cliff underneath has been concentrated into much smaller areas than it would have been before it was surfaced.

The effect of the water flowing through these cracks can be likened to the effect of a cheese wire on a piece of cheese and over the passage of time it has cut vertical cracks in the chalk weakening the cliff.

Next enter Augustus Welby Pugin for those of you that don’t know he was a well known architect, probably most famous for his work on The Houses of Parliament.

Pugin designed his own house in Ramsgate “The Grange” where he died in 1872, not so well known is the gallery of caves and tunnels that he built in the cliff next to The Grange.
As you can see from the picture it collapsed quite spectacularly. If there is a moral here it is that even very famous architects should be wary of chalk cliffs especially where there is a cracked surface above them.

Unbeknown to me around this time the council also commissioned a report on the condition of the cliff next to where the new development is going to be built, this report was published in April 2005.

Unfortunately for the council the report was very unfavourable, it showed that much of the cliff façade had been poorly constructed, in many places the concrete was much thinner than the design had specified and that in the sea air it had deteriorated considerably.

Most worrying however was that the concerns about the various voids behind the façade and that collapses of these voids could put lateral strains on the façade that it hadn’t been deigned to withstand.

Much of the façade was built in 1936 and some in 1956 as far I know all in all it is not and never has been a very good structure.

This all put the council that wanted to sell the site for this development in a difficult position, the report stated that the work was urgent and should be carried out immediately and would cost over half a million pounds.

The council’s action next was rather surprising what they did was to sit on the report for nearly three years, there was none of the promised consultation about the development and the council’s actions certainly delayed the development by this amount of time.
Eventually I managed to get hold of the report in May 2007 and put some pressure on them to get on with the job.

Eventually the council put aside the money and the cliff repairs started around the end of 2007, I believe they ended up spending the best part of a million pounds of our money on these repairs.

During the repairs it was discovered that within the cliff near to the cliff face was a whole maze of tunnels and caves that formed an onshore naval station together with the old Pleasurama building, this was called HMS Fervent.

When the repairs were ongoing I realised that something was seriously wrong.

At this time it was the intention for the whole development to be built on a flat base at about 6 metres above the datum line used for maps and plans.

When they started clearing the ground down to this level at the western end of the site, next to the cliff face it became obvious that the concrete cliff façade only extended down to about a metre above this level.

Another problem being that much of the exposed area at the bottom of the façade had no foundations.

Their course of action at this point was to stop levelling the ground next to the cliff so as not to expose any more problems and to get on with the cliff repairs as though the absence of foundations could be ignored if it couldn’t be seen.

Since the distance between the new development and the cliff face must be totally arbitrary as it was determined before the problems with the cliff were discovered, I have asked the various people involved what the safe distance between the cliff face and the development should be it should be, no satisfactory reply has ever been forthcoming.

The picture above shows the results of a cliff collapse at the Paragon in the 1950s the structure in front of it used steel girders in its construction and that is what the bent things in the picture are.

Obviously one only has to look at these girders to realise that a cliff collapse could be problematic for the new development.

We now come to the work that was done just over a year ago to repair the concrete cliff façade, after only a year one would expect it to be pretty much without blemish. If you had your house painted with masonry paint you wouldn’t expect much deterioration after only a year.

However what has happened is that a lot of cracks have opened up and vegetation is growing in them, one even has a small tree sprouting.

I have put plenty of pictures of this up recently so I won’t bother again particularly as pretty much everyone in Ramsgate must have seen what has happened.
There is another problem here and that is how they access the cliff face for maintenance purposes with the narrow access road behind the building being the only one.
Click on the link for the radar survey of Wellington Crescent.


Click on the link for some the report on the condition of the cliff, I have all of it if anyone needs to refer to any of it.


Click on the link to look at HMS Fervent inside the cliff.



  1. If they go ahead and build this unwanted monstrosity they can't say you haven't warned them of all the possible problems, Michael. I just pity the poor people who are tempted into buying any of the flats as I foresee them being very difficult to insure or to sell if there are problems with the cliff facein future.

  2. A local council has a duty of care to ensure that all proposed developments are sound before giving them the green light. This is not what I am seeing from your article. It looks like they just don't care. Surely that is not the case? oh wait...

  3. I see that former Chair of Planning Bill Hayton is no longer listed as a cllr member of Kent Police Authority ?

  4. 19.50 I think the problem with the cliff is that we just don’t know as there appears to be no professional opinion about the safety of the cliff now, that is after the repairs that obviously haven’t been completely successful.

    I have kept away from, well more like given up on the aesthetics of the building for the most part and concentrated on the safety aspects which to me seem more important but I do believe that it isn’t suitable for or in keeping with the location.

    Matt I tried going down the duty of care road some time ago and it seems to me that they have to build something first and then one complains that it is dangerous and at that point the statutory bodies intervene and either make them demolish it or make it safe.

    There may be some case when building work starts that there is a likelihood of cliff collapse endangering the construction workers according to the health and safety inspectorate.

    Finally I am sorry I put the wrong link up to the report on the condition of the cliff, I have corrected this now.

  5. This is all very scary stuff. Why oh why has the council ignored it?

  6. As you story is headed "famous architects mistake" there's already been one almighty/costly building blunder not a million miles away. KCC spent/lost £7 millions on the off-shore Turner mark 1 with projected costs of £48 millions for completion before they pulled the plug. If a council like the 4 star KCC can get it so wrong what chance is there that TDC is going down the right path with this difficult site. As usual KCC is pointing the blame away from themselves on to the achitects and spending loads more of out money on taking them to court.

  7. At least Isambard Brunel is reputed to have admitted to error.

    "Mmmm I made a mistake. And I was planning to build another half dozen like it too"

    TDC does not make mistakes it identifies reasons to revise plans.

  8. Sorry about the delay replying I have quite a few different things on the boil at the moment, I didn’t even manage to finish yesterdays post properly.

    Don’t know Samantha, all the way along the line I have tried to stress to all the parties involved that building a large residential development between a cliff face and the foreshore is very demanding.

    I have also stressed that none of the parties involved have any experience of doing this and as we have no other developments in this sort of location in Thanet the council has no experience in regulating them.

    The Victorians did a certain amount of this sort of building here but when they did the building was usually integral with the cliff and the walls of the building at right angles to the cliff were strengthened to give extra support to the cliff.

    13.08 At least KCC learnt from their mistake and had a proper flood risk assessment done for Turner 2.

    I think the problem here is that in many cases the architects are blissfully unaware of the power of a big storm in this area and tend only to see flood levels as static as you would get with a river, put a thirty foot high wave on top and things are very different.

    Richard I don’t think they can just say they made a mistake, this has been endemic to government departments for years, sometimes this causes disaster or even death as it did in the case of the R101 airship disaster.

    However I should stress here that my object here is not to apportion blame, which is often an easy way out especially after the event, but to try and find a way that the problems can be resolved.

  9. I am very encouraged by your last paragraph, Michael. To summarise your position.

    1.Ground FFL set at 6.3m when already recorded storm surge 6.45m plus waves.
    2. Escape link to cliff top recommended only by EA and not yet included in scheme.
    3.No specific condition for the development to be lower than the upper promenade.
    4. Condition of approach road is probably not good enough to take additional traffic.(167 cars 145 cycles plus commercial vehicles)

    Any ideas for getting somebody to listen?

  10. Readit a few thoughts.

    1 I am not sure where you got the highest recorded tide surge figures from, my understanding is this was in 1953, it’s a while since I looked into this but if I remember rightly the story goes something like: The surge broke the tide gauge at Ramsgate so no level was reordered and the records at Margate were lost in the flooding caused by the storm.

    2 There is a bit of confusion on this one, I believe if you read their report you will find that they assumed that the stairs on the first set of plans were for escape purposes, by this I mean when they could have insisted on one, they thought there already was one. These stairs and their route to the cliff top have been removed on the latest set of plans.

    3 I think it would have helped all round if the council had set a height and may cause problems if the building comes out much higher than expected.

    4 I have tried to cover this one in my next post to the best of my ability and have now left follow up comments that I hope will help resolve the issue.

    I think the answer there is yes I am now getting people to listen to the problems but where I am having the most trouble is coming up with workable solutions. This is a multi faceted and highly demanding scheme and I believe if it is ever to be built satisfactorily more flexibility will be required from the council than would be appropriate for a normal development in a conventional site.

    The big stumbling blocks are: 1 That many of the problems have been revealed after planning consent and that to overcome them in a satisfactory way could constitute material change negating that consent. 2 That the development agreement time schedule may make it impossible to properly investigate the problems.

  11. Michael, I got my information on tidal surges from a local expert, I suggest you follow this link. !!!


    You are in danger of giving us too much information here.
    I was trying to summarise your concerns in order to consider possibilities for further action

  12. Readit three exclamation marks always a worrying sign, have you had a tiresome day?

    Sorry about that the webpage in question is two and a half years old and my understanding has moved on since then.

    I believe that figure was one I obtained by calculating a tidal level from a newspaper article about an exceptionally high tide here and hence may be based on an exaggeration.

    The up to date situation to the best of my knowledge is as above, by that I mean I just don’t know, the EA apparently base their information on the Margate tide gauge now, the difficulty being that Margate is in the North Sea and Ramsgate isn’t.

  13. Michael, for your information, if you do not know already or have forgotten. The Turner Contemporary is built on a plinth at 7.5mODN a height recommended as above flood risk for 1 in 200 year events.
    Some service parts of the building go down to 5.7mODN and are designed to be flood resilient (ie under sea water)The building would be closed to the public on expectation of a 1in 200 yr event.

  14. Readit some thoughts here the EAs 200 year predicted static tide appears to be 5.6 so you may have some difficulty with that one.

    Whatever the highest tide will be it is likely to be a tad higher than Margate, it pretty much always is.

    Something strikes me a little odd here, as the highest tide I photographed in the last year was about 5.

    I don’t believe this figure takes account of the fact that the two tidal systems English Channel and North Sea meet here or the effect of the wind blowing the ware this way.

    It also occurs to me that you may be missing the most important problem i.e. the cliff façade, at least with the tide there would probably be some sort of warning.

    Just a though with the tides be careful that you don’t confuse ODN with the navigational chart levels used by the harbours and on the tide tables these figures are completely different.

    I certainly think that if ever they do a flood risk assessment it will come to similar conclusions as the one for Turner, however the bottom line here is I just don’t know and without one nor does anyone else, so starting construction without one seems foolhardy in the extreme.


Comments, since I started writing this blog in 2007 the way the internet works has changed a lot, comments and dialogue here were once viable in an open and anonymous sense. Now if you comment here I will only allow the comment if it seems to make sense and be related to what the post is about. I link the majority of my posts to the main local Facebook groups and to my Facebook account, “Michael Child” I guess the main Ramsgate Facebook group is We Love Ramsgate. For the most part the comments and dialogue related to the posts here goes on there. As for the rest of it, well this blog handles images better than Facebook, which is why I don’t post directly to my Facebook account, although if I take a lot of photos I am so lazy that I paste them directly from my camera card to my bookshop website and put a link on this blog.