Saturday, 10 October 2009

Royal Sands Development Ramsgate or the Pleasurama Saga Goes On.

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.

18 comments:

  1. Is this not something that Ramsgate Council can address to bring more focus to bare on the subject?

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  2. WOW !!! Michael,
    Historian, architect, town planner, structural engineer, security consultatnt, road engineer,marine expert is there no end to your talents.
    You forgot to mention its under the flight path to Manston so night flights should be banned
    Large waves from the high speed ferry may swamp the ground floor so we shouldnt have that.
    Maybe the contractors and developers have some experts of their own!
    With friends like you Ramsgate doesnt need enemies!
    Who is going to buy your books when the tumbleweed is blowing down King Street?

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  3. 20-41
    I don't see that someone taking an interest in the goings on at tdc calls for such a hostile responce,
    if it upsets you so much I would suggest you get a life instead of trolling.

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  4. Well ---EXCUSE ME !!!!
    I thought the idea of these blogs was DEBATE.
    It you cant stand the heat get out of the fire!

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  5. Keep up the good work Michael.Some of us still believe a safe and pleasing town is not too much to ask for.If our "representatives" took your advice on our neglected assets (tunnels etc) there would be little danger of tumbleweed.

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  6. Matt with TDC I believe the errors that were made in terms of not following the rules were a long time ago, when the second set of plans came out with the gull wings removed and with them any claim the development being architecturally pleasing or in any sense good, at least from below, this change did constitute what is called in planning law “material change” and at this point the plans should have been rejected.

    Since then I believe they have followed the letter if not the spirit of planning law in a misguided attempt to attract investment in Ramsgate at any cost, this has now misfired, in as much as if when they had the chance they had rejected the bad plans, the plans now would have complied with EA safety guidelines and the contractor wouldn’t be faced with a very difficult problem, on the storm damage front.

    Readit, well it’s obvious from your comments that you don’t like me very much, perhaps you bought a book from me that you didn’t like or something. That apart it is very difficult to tell from your comments what your views are on the Pleasurama development, from your nickname I assume you have read the EA report and as this report has been made by the only person involved that is an expert in flood risk, do I take it that you feel it should be ignored and that the development go ahead without a flood risk assessment?

    Anyway if you want the debate, that you say you want, in your 22.23 comment you will have to tell me what it is that I have said that you disagree with, if you have followed this blog and my previous Pleasurama websites you will know that I have substantiated what I have said with photographs, plans and correspondence between me and the various experts involved.

    Derick I also find this a bit odd as I am certainly not getting a hostile response from either the contractor or the developers agent, nor have I had one from the council planning department.

    00.03 I think the problem for our representatives at the moment is they have now tied themselves up in so much red tape that they can’t move quickly or flexibly enough for any commercial enterprise to work effectively in this economic climate.

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  7. Thank you Michael.

    My comments were not intended to be either hostile or personal. I do not know you well enough to like or dislike you and I DO appreciate anyone who is working for Ramsgate.

    However there are two plain facts in this matter.
    1. A planning permission exists and can be built out for good or bad. TDC can wash their hands of it.
    2. The contractor and developer have started on site and now have to face the problems you have highlighted and no doubt they will because their profits depend on it.

    I for one would like to see a good building on the site which Ramsgate can be proud of, but I have no control over it and anything is better than the current "bomb site".

    The reason that this development is starting immediately is that the original planning permission has nearly expired and the site owner does not wish to face another round of protests.

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  8. Readit no offence taken here by me, I blog therefore I expect the flack when the issues are contentious.

    One minor correction here, if the planning permission expired it was earlier this year when the five years expired.

    The council’s position appears to be that since the access road was started before the five years expired the permission stands in perpetuity.

    I don’t recommend trying this at home though, try building a garden shed after the five years is up on the premise that you have laid a path to it and I suspect the full weight of the planning enforcement officers would fall on you.

    The problem now is with the development agreement, which sets out a tight schedule for various stages of the development and may mean that the developer has difficulty in getting a flood risk assessment done in time.

    This isn’t a planning issue but relates to the council owning the land and the developer being unable to get normal financial insurance from their bankers.

    The development agreement is a long and complex document and I believe to much detail here would only serve to bore my readers.

    What I am working towards here with the various parties involved is to ensure that we don’t have another eleven years of this prime site being the eyesore that it is, as this time the contractor has an excellent track record and has produced several large developments in this area I have considerable hopes.

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  9. Well said Readit.

    Like you, I want the best for Ramsgate.

    I'm sure many years of expertise have gone into the plans, and the developers will think carefully before investing their money. As many developers will tell you, involvement of the controlling authorities does not cease with approval of plans.

    If I had to choose between the combined business acumen of developers, expertise of authorities and statutory controls, or the comments of a local book seller I think I would go with the former. Just because the developers and authorities don't enter into public debate over details of the project, it doesn't mean they're not aware of relevant issues.

    No malice intended Michael, but stick with the books. You're good at that.

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  10. I cant agree with you on the last sentence "Anonymous". I think Michael is doing a great job bringing this to our attention.

    My "beef" is with negativity in the town, we all need to get off our "asses" and help ourselves.
    If you wait for the cavalry to arrive from Margate the indians will surely get you.

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  11. Read-it and 18.34, clearly have not read the latest EA report that has been ignored so far by TDC Planning and developers. Guys or Gals, what the EA is saying quite simply is that the bottom of this development is a flood zone with rapid inundation in the right conditions of gale and high tide. Not only will hundreds of tonnes of water crash into the ground floor every few minutes but any debris picked up by wave action will also be propelled like missiles into the ground floor. To argue that because planning consent was granted more than 5 years ago before the revised EA risk assessment was made means that we can ignore it as we build this development,just would not stand up in a court of law should it come to relatives of those who were injured or lost their lives, wished to sue for culpable negligence. I am surprised that some of you fail to grasp what Michael has been saying about this project for the last 18 months. I suspect that the developers are listening more closely to him than are TDC, whose spurious case to not require a renewed planning application, might put them also in the firing line for litigation if a tragedy occurs due to the conditions that are increasingly likely to threaten this development.

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  12. No one is saying that the EA report should be ignored but the planning permission stands if TDC do not call it in and anyway the alternative is another 11 years of "bomb sites".
    It is a big leap to suggest that a flooded building will result in deaths, particularly as the ground floor is not residential, the building will have an escape route to the upper promenade and tide tables can be referenced for possible surges.
    If we give up on the eastern undercliff because it will undoubtedly suffer another tidal surge sometime in the future then equally thousands of buildings in the South-East of England are at a similar or greater risk.

    If TDC are in favour of this and other developments in that area, then it is incumbent upon them to protect the area from tidal surges.

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  13. Readit's second to last line is absurd.

    It is quite different the peril that existing buildings face from the changes brought by global warming, to that of buildings yet to be built that ignore the information we now have.

    If this stupid scheme was to be built in its current form, then the flats would be uninsurable and ultimately unsellable leaving a half finished soon to be slum on the site. This can hardly be good news for Ramsgate

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  14. 18.34 While I would agree with you were the circumstances normal, my dialogue with the various experts involved has been somewhat more surreal than one would expect.

    To show what I mean I will give you one example of many, since 2003 I have pointed out various problems with the new sets of plans they have drawn, things like the building being bigger on the inside than the outside, they have tended to reply with a new set of plans, click on the link for details of one tiny area of the building and see what you think http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/tdc/id30.htm then perhaps you can tell me what you think of the expertise that has gone into the plans.

    20.56 I think it is the new corporate manslaughter legislation that they all need to watch out for the most, there have already been custodial sentences handed out and I believe the council officers, councillors, developer, contractor and architects could all be implicated.Readit re your

    21.53 comment part of the problem here is that the development does not in fact have an escape to the cliff top.

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  15. Michael.. I have taken on board your latest comments and made a detailed study of the latest plans on the TDC planning portal. Unfortunately these are only planning drawings as building regulation information is not in the public domaim.
    The finished ground floor level is set at 6.3 metres towards the sea face and 7.0 at the cliff base. the general upper promenade level is say 22 metres a difference of 15.7 metres. minimal storey heights would be 4 x 2.7 plus 5 metres for the ground floor which adds up to 15.8 metres.
    With a bit of juggling 0.1 metres could be lost but it would be tight especially as the hotel is towards the western end which is where the cliff is lowest and the top floor contains a restaurant and function room "me thinks it is going to poke its head over the parapet at this point".

    As far as escape to the top is concerned I took it from your original blog that the EA were insisting this was added.

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  16. Readit I think your 7.5 metres sound about the minimum ceiling height they could get away with, there will also need to be room for the concrete floors and a space for wires pipes etc.

    I don’t think there is any actual legislation covering minimum ceiling heights for new builds, but any lower than 7.5 metres would make the apartments seem a bit on the odd side to potential purchasers so I don’t think the developer will want that.

    I concur with you that it will poke over the cliff a bit in some places, however I think the real problem here will be a combination of the height and the distance the front of the building is away from the cliff.

    What I mean here is that we go from having our sea and harbour views from the cliff to having some places where it will be just about possible to see the horizon from the cliff top.

    As far as the base line goes the FRA for the Turner Contemporary is I think on and well behind a sea defence at 7 odn, as this is the most up to date FRA done by H R Wallingford, the firm the EA recommend, in this area that is the level that I consider to be the nearest I can get to reasonable.

    Anyway I will put some of my thoughts on this up in today’s post.

    As far as the cliff top escapes and the flood risk assessment as the plans predate the EA report the EA can only strongly recommend not insist an no there are no cliff top escapes in the new plans that were drawn after the EA report.

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  17. There is no specific condition for the building to be below the promenade level. The approved permission F/TH/03/1200 dated 28/1/04 condition 8 states"....to be carried out in conformity with a scheme of finished site levels...".

    Condition 8 has been cleared by drawing PL13-107 Rev J which has also been agreed by the Fire Officer and Building Control. I have not viewed that particular drawing.

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  18. If you look on the Rightmove website Terence Painter is already trying to sell the flats as if they have been built.

    There are some dodgy CGI mock ups and a one bedroom flat can be yours for a mere £220,000. Rather overpriced I think .

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