I am asking for a bit of help from the people who read this blog, not a for or against just some ideas as once again I am one again going to try to get some temporary summer use for the building site next summer and some sort of resolution to the ongoing problem.
This will be a fairly long post as for the most part I am clarifying my thoughts by writing them down.
With the temporary use I have tried this every year for last few years and once we did get a leisure use for the site throughout the summer.
All of the other years the answer from the council has been that the development is to start imminently and that the developer would need all of the site so any other use would be impossible.
No work has ever started on the site and not a single part of the foundations have been laid.
I suppose the best solution to the overall problem would be if the planning application approval was withdrawn, this would give all of the parties involved a chance to come up with some scheme for the site that is viable.
The problem there is that the road layout and surface drainage pipe, both of which are outside of the site, form part of the approved planning application, because of the work on these the council’s planning department tell me that technically work has started on the development.
Normally if no work had been started then the planning consent would have expired by now but because of this technicality the approval remains valid forever.
Another road to go down would be to say that as the developer is behind schedule in terms of the development agreement between the developer and the council.
This would if it went through all of the various stages exclude the current developer, SFP, but there are problems related to this course of action.
One is that the planning approval would still remain valid. Another is that the developer could engage in litigation against the council to recover the money that they have already spent on the road, surface drain and planning, I think this is the best part of £3m, money the council hasn’t got.
Now my guess is that the current development agreement would be very difficult to apply in this economic climate, mainly because the first part of the development it stipulates that what should be built is the hotel, something that wouldn’t be likely to sell easily at the moment. Another problem is that the hotel is at the western end of the site and all of the construction vehicles would have to pass the hotel until the development is complete.
Since the plans were first approved various issues have come up that makes the development both less viable and less attractive.
The first was the height issue.
The first set of plans were for a building that was too high relative to cliff behind it, in fact height has dogged this development from the early stages.
There is only so much space between the high tide level in front of the building and the cliff behind it.
Various modifications have been made to the plans to try and fit the building into this space, with out changing the basic design so much that the changes invalidated the planning approval.
The net result of this was to remove the gull wing effect of the building depriving it of any architectural merit.
Since the plans were approved the area has been designated a high risk flood zone, this means that the plans would have to satisfy more stringent rules if they were to be approved today.
Another problem is the situation with the cliff behind the development has changed too since the plans were approved.
The council had the cliff surveyed and the survey said that the condition of the cliff wasn’t good.
Since the survey the council has spent various sums of money totalling about £1m on the cliff behind the site and it looks as though cliff maintenance there is going to ongoing, expensive for the council but more significantly will need more space between the cliff and the building, to work on the cliff, than the plans allow for.
Another problem is the road access to the site, the plans and road layout at the moment are reliant on busses being able to use the Victorian viaduct running down the face of the cliff to access the building, for the life of the building.
At best this would mean considerable expense for the council during the life of the building maintaining this structure and at worse the viaduct could become too unsafe for road traffic during the life of the building.
Another problem is the capacity of sewage system in this part of Ramsgate, this is the one that regularly causes flooding in Harbour Parade and would seem unlikely to be able to cope with a large development’s waste.
All in all the council passed plans that at best will be very costly for the council if implemented and at worse will produce a development that is partly or wholly unusable for part of its expected life.
In the long term I think the best solution would be a different development, both higher in terms of the flood risk, further from the cliff to allow better access and designed so that it would work with road access that wasn’t reliant on the viaduct.
At the moment only one of these factors seems to have affected the progress of the development and that is the condition of the cliff behind the development.
So far the council’s stance has been that there is nothing serious wrong with the cliff, as the council owns the cliff and is responsible for maintaining it, this puts the council in a position of considerable financial liability throughout the life of the development.
On the face of it the developer can play this situation to his advantage, using the condition of the cliff as an excuse for not starting the development as he is supposed to have done to conform to the development agreement.
I think this is what happened at the beginning of this year when he examined a small part of the cliff façade.
You may remember that at the end of last year I made a visual examination of the cliff façade and pointed out defects some of which the council repaired.
After this the developer’s contractor investigated some of the defects that the council hadn’t repaired, this was a bit of a strange investigation because it was only of a small part of the potential defects.
They did two things that I could see. One was to investigate some of the other panels like the one the council had to replace, from what I could see this showed that some of the panels that they investigated were faulty (either too thin or not properly constructed). My conclusion here is the it would have been easier and cheaper to replace these panels before the development was built, making access much more difficult and causing disruption to the people living in the development. Something that totally mystifies me though is that finding some defective panels they didn’t investigate the rest of them.
The other thing was to do with the foundations of the support columns. When I made my visual inspection it appeared that the foundations couldn’t have been constructed to the design on the plans of the façade that the council had supplied me with. So either the foundations were different or the simply didn’t exist. What the developer’s contractor did was to dig beside the first of these support columns to see what was underneath it, the result of this was that they found no foundations at all, just muddy earth, there can be no doubt about this I went on site and examined the hole they had dug and photographed it. This leaves me with the question why didn’t they examine the foundations of any more of the support columns?
You have to appreciate that this isn’t a case of some minor construction sitting on no foundations, but a seventy foot high concrete construction, four meters away from where the contractor intends to build an hotel.
Whatever the situation work on the development’s foundations didn’t start at the beginning of this year like it was supposed to.
What did happen this year was that a subcontractor laid the surface water drainage pipe between the site and the harbour.
Finally during September the contractor started to clear the site and I was assured that the development was going to start. This work lasted for about three weeks and involved two men and a digger. This work stopped before the site was completely cleared at about the same time as part of the render fell off of the cliff façade, I am not really certain if the two things were related.
Now having said all of this which is I know a bit negative, the main contractor, Cardy Construction, are a local firm, employing local labour, they also have a good track record.
Now if I push the council to terminate the development agreement, the plans remain valid and we could get a much worse developer.
I will definitely push for temporary use of the site for next year, although I don’t hold out much hope.
I will definitely continue to push for a survey of the cliff, this is a bit of a difficult one as the civil engineering firm that the council normally uses for this sort of work are the same firm that supervised the main cliff repair job and the same firm that assured me in writing that thick concrete foundations resting on solid chalk exist, where there is in fact just muddy soil.
I will defiantly continue to push for a proper flood risk assessment before any building work starts.
Both of these things should be sensible measures that can only save both the council and the developer future problems.
What I am asking for here though is any suggestions of any other actions I could take over this matter.