Thursday, 4 November 2010

Royal Sands Development Ramsgate Pleasurama Where Now?

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I suppose the best solution to the overall problem would be if the planning application approval was withdrawn, this would give all of the parties involved a chance to come up with some scheme for the site that is viable.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.

31 comments:

  1. Michael, does the condition of the cliff substantially improve in the summer months or is this "Leisure for Lemmings":-)

    I suggest we fix more paintings to the other side of the Great Wall and have Ramsgate's own alfresco Van Gogh Contemporary. It could attract tourists from far and wide and provide much needed regeneration revenue for the council:-)

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  2. scrap the plans re submit new plans for indoor swimming pool/ice rink/games centre like the one at norfolk university

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  3. good idea roof area would make good spectator space for beach cross

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  4. Readit not at all, cliff safety to an extent is governed by the laws of chance, there really isn’t another economic way of dealing with the problem.

    We overcome this problem by having signs saying don’t sit under the cliff. Lets say for example we have a length of cliff where bits fall off about four times a year, there are 525600 minutes in a year, let us also say that the danger posed from a fall lasts for 15 seconds so that in the course of a year there is a minute where you could get hurt being under this bit of cliff.

    You can see that the danger of getting hurt is relative to the time you spend under the bit of cliff, walk under it occasionally and the chances of being hurt are hundreds of thousands to one. Sit under the cliff every day during the summer and you start to get to something like a 1 in 4 chance of being hit by a bit of falling cliff.

    Build your house under the cliff, or start on a 4 year contract to work under the cliff and you can see that a serious problem emerges.

    19.49 the problem here is that with UK planning law as it stands there doesn’t seem to be any way to scrap the existing plans, so if you got TDC to sell you the site to put a swimming pool on there wouldn’t be anything to stop you from building the development instead, 109 apartments at say £250,000 each is what £27m plus hotel etc.

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  5. could you not apply for change of use then submit new planing for indoor spots use

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  6. Michael, the statistics are fine as long as you are not unlucky enough to be there at the wrong minute. I assume you don't play the lottery.

    1949 the trouble with "change of use" is that it is only implemented when a building is constructed. The original use is valid until the change of use takes place.

    Therefore, Michael's summer funfair use does not require planning permission as I believe the last use of the site was similar.

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  7. does this mean the site is still a designated site for entertainment as the last use was indoor fun fair/arcade/bingo hall

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  8. Technically speaking the site is vacant, but if the last use was leisure then that use still persists.

    If it can be proved that the leisure use is still current (summer fairs) then no change of use is necessary to continue such use.

    Proving the use still persists can be difficult and councils are reluctant to recognise established uses. Just as they are reluctant to withdraw a planning permission which has been "started".

    My understanding of "commencement" is when a foundation has been dug and concreted but it is very open to biased interpretation.

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. While the council sticks to the misconception that this development has started then the current use is residential, commercial and hotel

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  11. As the chief exec turned to the director of regeneration "this is another fine mess you have got tdc into" never mind have a payrise and we will call you a super director of regen.

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  12. I’m confused, the original comments relate to an unsafe cliff, more recent comments relate to using the same site for leisure purposes; should this be the case one can only surmise that if the site is used for leisure purposes the cliff is no longer unsafe or a risk whereas it remains unsafe for the proposed development….double standards maybe!

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  13. Confused anon 14.47.

    Michael, the blog author is convinced that you will be safe under a statistical umbrella whilst enjoying yourself on the site, but should you wish to camp out for longer periods the strength of tent material may not be sufficient to stop several tons of chalk and concrete from crushing you.

    The local district council are convinced that a hotel, shops and over 100 flats exist on the site which are immune to any tsunami created by an eruption of Mount Holland.

    Just another normal day in Thanet (que: the men in white coats)

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  14. I think the cliff will have the last word! If it decides to collapse it is unlikely the site will ever be built on again, but it could be used for go-karting, funfairs and other temporary activities.

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  15. I have just received as the result of a foi request to the council, some documentation from the council relating to the cliff, I will make it the subject of a post later but thought it would be of interest to some of the commentators here.

    Some of it is a bit technical and I am happy to help if anyone gets a bit lost, click on the link for the series of linked pages of documents http://www.thanetonline.com/cliff/

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  16. At least Cardy's observations seem sensible, there appears to be a discrepancy between the original drawing and the "as built" details,but the definition of the old drawing makes reading specifications difficult.

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  17. Readit suppose you approached this as a structural engineer, what is 17 block panels I think you examine 7 find defects in 6 recommend some are rebuilt make no recommendation about one with a serious defect and don’t examine the other panels.

    Then you have what is it about 30 columns that have suspect foundations, nowhere is there any signs of the load spreaders that are supposed to sit on solid chalk, you investigate the first pillar and find is sitting on a pile of muddy soil, you make recommendations about temporary underpinning while a more permanent solution is found.

    Then you make no investigation of the other pillars foundations and start clearing the site as a prelude to construction.

    Eventually a small lump of the façade falls off and you vacate the site before the clearance work is finished.

    I have been trying to decode what these actions signify since I read it, have you got any ideas?

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  18. My assumptions were based on the phrase "temporary underpinning while a more permanent solution is found." A small but expensive sentence.

    I am assuming from that, permeanant underpinning would follow, this would be extremly expensive on all the main columns.

    If and when the columns are stable then the infill panels could be strengthened, I would have been interested to know what the original drawing said about infill panels but the definition was unreadable.

    The main column foundations were certainly not constructed to specification, which begs the question, how good are the main columns.

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  19. We gave decibels a good debate re night flying.

    But now we structural. Not my subject (apart from shear force and bending moments decades ago for mechanical ONC) What happens re underpinning (temporary or otherwise)when you take a 45 degree load spread line and it intersects with the footing or pilings arrangements for the construction ? Or is the structure sufficiently distant ?

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  20. After all of this time I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask that the failed development plan be scrapped. Any money that has already changed hands should be paid back and new tenders invited, to include total refurbishment of the facade and esplanade. Maybe we could apply to get back some of that money that we keep giving to the EU.

    Most importantly, we need a local puplic inquiry headed by a judge into this shambles, so that we can find out who is responsible.

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  21. Michael, re-reading you last post, I would say that if you investigate 1 column and 6 panels and find significant defects you do not expose everything.

    You assume what you have seen could be the best and plan for the worst. I would guess Cardy's have gone to a site that they can progress, pending structural engineers drawings of temporary strengthening details.

    Thats how it would go in the "real world" but nothing surprises me in Thanet.

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  22. Michael

    Article 2 Inquest re deaths in 1971

    No doubt on news you saw about the July suicide bombings HM Coroner pursuing state agencies re "Preventability".

    As you know my view is that the eleven Royal Marines murdered by IRA bomb at Deal 1989 should have a new inquest under Article 2 standards so that Kent Police and Thanet Council and Kent Police Authority can be questioned by an HM Coroner re whether negligence was involved in the failure to stop the attack.

    The fact is public authorities like TDC have an over-riding duty to protect life. I repeat my previous suggestions to you. Emphasise Article 2 duties and that now, if the worst happens, an HM Coroner will pursue the state agencies who should have prevented fatality.

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  23. Retired, any new underpinning arrangements should take the 45 degree load spread to a level lower than the new foundations.

    If piling is to be employed on site, two piles and a ground beam to each column may be the answer, but a solid connection to the column base would be required.

    My main concern would be the columns themselves as invasive investigation would destroy them, I am sure there must be something like ultrasonic readers which could examine the internal reinforcement and its condition.

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  24. Retired suggest you click on the link to the document again and using the links at the top of that page read the other documents that I got from the council today, I think you will see that they appear to have been seeking professional advice. Particularly notice the bulge at portal 11 most noticeable in the pictures of the portal on either side, in the 2007 document. The panel at portal 11 is the one that had to be replaced after the contract because it was bulging.

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  25. Michael, you said in your original post you did not want "for or against". Do you also want solutions or a stick to beat the council.

    The problems highlighted by Cardy's can be resolved if enough money is thrown at it. As you always say Cardy's are reputable contractors and no doubt they will do the right thing.

    The only question would be has there been negligence in previous reports, recommendations or works, if so it is a professional indemnity claim.

    If not, can the developer or the council absorb the additional costs involved in stabilising the concrete coat to the chalk cliff,
    bearing in mind if this cliff constitutes a public hazard it must be stabilised whether or not the development proceeds.

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  26. Trouble here Readit is that we seldom build in front of a cliff and when we do it is usually in front of a new cliff wall with an expected life similar to that of the development. The document 2005 describes this cliff wall as having a short serviceable life. We seldom build on the foreshore and when we do usually expert advice on the flood and storm situation is top of the bill.

    What seems to have happened here is that a group of people who don’t appreciate these constraints have between them produced a situation where permission to do this without any of the normal precautions exist in perpetuity.

    One way and another unrealistic ides for this site has meant it has been derelict for about thirteen years now.

    I don’t say that the approved development can’t be built, however I don’t think it can be built economically.

    I think that flood protection and cliff maintenance mean that the costs to the public purse will be out of all proportion to the benefits.

    I think that the council officers realised this last year when the council’s director of finance recommended to the councillors that they pull out but the councillors decided not to.

    So no I don’t want to hold a stick to the council, but I do want to see some sort of resolution to what is the main blight on Ramsgate.

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  27. Michael, I would like to draw your particular attention to the last sentence of my previous post.
    "bearing in mind if this cliff constitutes a public hazard it must be stabilised whether or not the development proceeds."

    My rough estimate of the finished value of the development is in the region of £200-300 million, spending 1 or 2 million on cliff stabilisation is less than 1%.

    Not proceeding with some modified scheme would burden the taxpayer with the whole bill without any possibility of any offset of costs, and blight the site for many years to come. It will be a brave developer who completes the construction in the current economic climate.

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  28. Just looked at the Cardy report and the picture of the footing for the Buttress I am no engineer and even to my eye that looks to be insufficient. Hmmmmmmmm maybe TDC health and saftey department have different ideas.

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  29. Readit I think one of the problems here is that it is TDC that own the cliff façade structure, so that whatever the outcome most of the cost of repairing and maintaining it will fall on TDC.

    I am not so sure about your estimate of the value of the completed project, keeping the calculations simple there are about 100 apartments and I don’t see how these could realise more than about 500k each so at the top end 50m.. I think in the current climate more in the region of 300k which is 30m.

    The hotel I think 5m, the other commercial aspects mostly shop units I suspect would be difficult to sell.

    Then the work to the cliff wall, well with the current plans this is adjacent to a road, so will be subject to constant vibration and the risk of HGVS catching the supporting pillars.

    I am thinking that 1 to 2m may be a tad on the low side to make the structure’s foundations suitable.

    How this bit of cliff compares with the others bits in Thanet I am not so sure but if you reckon that if it constitutes a public hazard then I recommend look at the adjacent cliff walls, the one behind Kent Terrace and the one above the Marina Road incline.

    Don I had a bit of a gander in this hole and muddy soil is what is there.

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  30. Sorry I got my noughts in the wrong place, should read £20 - 30 million value and £1-2 million is less than 10%.

    Michael, I am not saying it is a public hazard, I thought you were suggesting, cliff collapses and road weight limits. In which case there must be a case for some TDC expenditure on the problem.

    The million or so already spent seems mainly to have been the top strengthening beam, expensive pedestrian barrier, continuous trough drainage and extensive tarmacing.

    No doubt this was to stop ingress of water topside, no-one thought to inspect the foundations.

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  31. As a layman with not a lot of engineering knowledge I would say
    that the curtain wall was only a filler to stop loose chalk falling. To prevent a major cliff fall,and I have seen many over the years,the whole length of cliff would need underpinning from the top downwards,that is the only way to ensure safety.
    Stargazer.

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