Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama Site in Ramsgate, a long story.

I guess the first question here is; do the council have any say if Cardy take over SFP and start developing the site? My guess would be that the answer here is not much as the whole basis for the council taking back the site is that work on the development has stopped, so if work starts again there probably wouldn’t be that much the council could do about it.

It has always been my take that there isn’t much mileage in going down the legal obligations of the developer route, however there are public safety issues relating to the cliff façade and the sea defences there that really need resolving.

The cliff façade structure behind the site wasn’t designed with a large residential development next to it in mind, and it is very unlikely that any of it would last for as long as a new development, even if the council threw a few million pounds at it now.

The council had the cliff façade surveyed in 2005 and the results of the survey were that it was in pretty awful condition then, needed immediate repairs, but that it has a short serviceable life. 

Obviously with the major Royal Sands Development plans passed this survey wasn’t good news for the council, the real rub here is that to maintain the cliff wall for the expected life of the development, around 100 years, you need enough space to be able to knock down parts of the cliff wall and rebuild it.

The concrete cliff wall is about 20 metres or about 65 feet high and about a metre or 3 feet thick, the real problem is that the back of the development is about 20 metres or about 65 feet high and will be about 4 metres or 12 feet away from the cliff.

However you look at this one I don’t think you could really demolish areas of the cliff wall without having a clear space in front of it of around 7 metres or about 20 feet, this is mainly because of the problems associated with big lumps of concrete falling from around 65 feet up in the air. I would doubt that anyone would need a diagram here, but essentially the council have dug themselves a hole and I don’t see any easy way out of it.

Anyway in 2007 the council had the cliff wall surveyed again, see I think they were hoping that its condition would have improved, obviously it hadn’t, so the council decided to find the money to repair the wall around a million pounds with SFP paying about £100,000 and in 2008 they started on the work, this generated yet another report work finished on this in October 2009.

Frankly I didn’t like the look of the repair job and I went on site and had a closer look at the work, part of the cliff façade had a bulge in it with a great big crack running down the middle of it, so a made a lot of fuss see

In January 2010 the council decided that they would repair the bulging bit, this was effectively a £20,000 repair to the £1m repair.

Removing the panel there involved large lumps of chalk and concrete blocks being hacked out by a JCB with a spike on the end, as they fell as far as about 20 feet from the cliff face I guess they would have seriously damaged the new development had it already been built. 

At around the same time I discussed the cliff issue with Cardy’s MD and he went and had a look at the situation, frankly he wasn’t very happy about the quality of the repair to the repair, but much more importantly he was concerned about the whole state of that end of the cliff wall.

He made a few inspection holes in the front of the cliff wall which showed that all wasn’t well with the rest of it and he also dug a hole next to one of the concrete support pillars to see what the foundations were like.

The result of this was the interesting discovery that there weren’t any, foundations that is under the massive cliff wall support pillar, here is his report

Well I went on site and had a look down the hole and took some more pictures and made some more fuss.

In the end the council’s engineer decided that there was nothing wrong with the cliff façade structure so Cardy started work on the site, rumour has it that they started each working day by looking carefully for more cracks in the cliff wall.

I had various bumpy rides with the council over the condition of the cliff but nothing serious was ever done to further improve its condition.

I made a lot of fuss about the cliff through 2011, mainly because a lot of new cracks were appearing in the cliff wall and in 2012 the council surveyed it again, here is the survey this survey recommended what looks like about £100,000 more work which the council didn’t do.

I guess anyone who lives in Ramsgate knows that the state of the cliff wall has deteriorated since 2012.

Somehow if the Royal Sands goes ahead the cliff issue will have to be resolved, you can build next to a chalk cliff where the building forms part of the cliff support structure, like Marina Esplanade, Harbour Parade or Military Road, it would however be most inadvisable to build 12 feet away from an unsupported chalk cliff.

On to the flood and storm issues, when the Royal Sands plans were submitted there was considerable doubt about both the height of the building relative to the top of the cliff and the baseline of the building relative to the high tide mark.

As far as I could see, as the same paving would be used as was going to be used for the old Pleasurama arcade, then the baseline would be the same. I worked for Pleasurama when it belonged to Associated Leisure and during the 1978 storm most of the front was smashed in and the front part, which was lower than the rest of the arcade, the bit that had once been The Long Bar, was flooded with sea water. 

The arcade owners resolved the main problem, which was mixing seawater with the electrics associated with fruit machines and pintables by turning this area into an American pool area, pool tables at that time were purely mechanical.

Now I had concerns that the sea water here would stir up the cars parked at this level and they would bump into the pillars supporting the new building with unfortunate results, so I asked the environment agency to look into the issue.    

At this time the EA hadn’t received plans with levels above high tide on them and frankly I don’t think it occurred to them that anyone would build on the foreshore without some sort of risk assessment. However they duly promised to get the council to send them plans with levels above sea level on them. This all took a very long time and eventually in 2008 the EA wrote to the developer and to the council, see

The situation at this point being that while the EA couldn’t make the developer get a flood risk assessment they wanted one: “And whilst we accept that this development already has planning permission, we would highly recommend that a full FRA is undertaken which could inform appropriate resilience and resistance measures.”

Anyway although no FRA was undertaken there was some compromise and the developer agreed to fit shutters to the front of the building and to raise the level of the road at the back of the building, both to stop the seawater sweeping round the back of it and to make it easer for people to escape if there was a very big wave. 

The raising of the road at the back had another benefit, which was as the bottom of the cliff wall didn’t reach down to the proposed new level of the site, without raising the level of the road, such foundations as the cliff wall had would be left hanging in mid air.

Now all through the various issues relating to the development going back to the initial plans in 2003 the assumption was that the development’s foundations would be piled, first driven piles and then after the 2005 report when the engineers decided that pile driving could bring down the cliff, bored piles.

To the layman this means that the building would either be nailed or screwed to the ground and by the ground here I mean the chalk bedrock that Thanet is made of.

The ground at the site is made up of three layers, the chalk bedrock, the sand beach that formed on top of this as the cliff eroded and on top of this the chalk spoil from the railway tunnel which was spread on top of the beach to bring the site up to above the high tide level when it became a station in 1860.

So you have something that looks very like a cheese sandwich the top slice being lose chalk, the cheese being sand and the bottom slice being chalk bedrock.

Anyway when work started on the foundations in 2009 the developer decided not to use piled foundations but to use concrete load spreading pads, sitting on the sand or the cheese part of the sandwich.

There are various possible reasons as to why they did this, before this happened the MD of Cardy told me that the pile boring team would go on site and all the foundations would go in very quickly, the whole foundation job taking about six weeks.

I am going with two options here. One being that the developer financing the site couldn’t put together the money to pay for a pile boring contractor so a slower method was used that could be financed as the job progressed. The other being that test boring showed that the chalk bedrock was unsuitable for piles, the bread in the bottom slice wasn’t properly baked and was all full of air water and mud.

Whatever the reason the foundations that have been built are sitting on the cheese and not screwed into the bottom slice. The real difference here is that the bottom slice, the chalk bedrock, can’t go anywhere, but the cheese, the sand was laid down by the sea, so the sea can wash it away again.

Anyway I got on to the MD of Cardy and said what about the foundations on the cheese, he told me that they had been properly designed to support the weight of the building sitting on the sand and I said that I agreed with him but had any investigation been made into the structural integrity of the sea defence.

In other words the pads were big enough not to sink into the cheese, like snowshoes but what worried me was what was holding the cheese in place, anyway I said I would find out about the sea defence, design, maintenance record and so on. 

At this point I think both of us assumed that the coloured concrete and the new promenade formed a new sea defence built and maintained by the environment agency.

Let me be absolutely clear here, virtually all of the isle of Thanet that has sea defences, have concrete ones the foundations of which are sunk into the chalk bedrock and these are built, maintained and regularly inspected by the environment agency, I don’t think any of these modern sea defences here have ever failed. So I don’t think there was any reason for anyone to think anything else.

Anyway I got onto the EA who said that although the sea defence beyond Augusta Stairs was theirs, and was modern and properly maintained, the sea defence between Augusta Stairs and the harbour wasn’t theirs and belonged to TDC who were responsible for maintaining it, so the EA had no records relating to it.

So I got onto the council’s engineer and asked for the sea defence plans and maintenance record. This all took a very long time and I had to resort to a foi request, so by the time I got the reply most of the foundations had already been built.

The reply was that the sea defence was the angled stone paving laid on the side of the pile of chalk by the railway company in 1860 and that the council had no design drawings or maintenance plan for it. The new coloured concrete steps and promenade were purely decorative, didn’t form any sort of sea defence and just sat on the pile of lose chalk.

I sent this information to the MD of Cardy and subsequently tried on numerous occasions to talk to him about the problem, but he never replied and was always in a meeting when I phoned up.

Now at the moment this isn’t really much of a problem because the sea hardly ever makes contact with the sea defence due to Ramsgate Sands being in the way.

Ramsgate Sands are formed by the shelter of Ramsgate Harbour which was finished in about 1790 and from 1790 until 1915 a period of around 125 years there was no accumulation of sand above the high tide mark, from 1860 until 1915 a period of 55 years the sea defence of sloping slabs on the pile of lose chalk appears to have worked fine with the waves breaking against it at high tide, I can’t find any record of it failing.

In 1915 there was a very real threat of invasion and Ramsgate Sands were defended with tank traps and barbed wire which held the sand in place and the beach started to increase in size, with the part in front of the Pleasurama site getting a build up of sand above the high tide mark, so the sea never came in contact with the sea defence. This all happened again in 1940, obviously whether this large build up of sand would be seen as sufficient sea defence for a development with an expected life of 100 years is open to debate, but at least it would have given a lot of time for sea defence decisions to be made if it started to seriously erode.

Unfortunately in the 1970s much of the sand and the old barbed wire and tank traps holding it in place was removed for the building of Port Ramsgate and my assumption was that eventually the remaining sand would erode back to the level caused by the shelter of Ramsgate Harbour. This would mean that the sea would once again be breaking against the 1860 sea defence.

Now last winter most of Ramsgate Sands vanished and if only half as much vanished this winter or the next one then the 1860 sea defence once again have the sea breaking against it.

This sea defence was one of two built as part of the railway expansion from Herne Bay to Ramsgate in 1860, the other one the same railway company built was between Reculver and Minnis, during one of the largest storms in this area in 1953 the sea defence between Reculver and Minnis failed resulting in the loss ten square miles of land and four miles of railway track in one night.  

Anyway that is the story, the problem is how to get some understanding of the implications across to the council, the councillors and the new developer.       


  1. So Michael current leases state the Council retain responsibility for cliff repairs which is bonkers as leases when Godden had Pleasurama that was the responsibility of the leaseholder.
    Any renegotiated deal with Cardy should get the maintenance returned to the leaseholder and when completed the freeholder (cabinet says freehold is as good as sold)
    Personally FORS position is the freehold should be in TDC's hands and we will campaign for that

    1. Barry I would guess there is some complex bargaining to be done here based on the pressure the council have applied by starting the process of terminating the development agreement.

      Underlying all of this is that right from the beginning the council and the developer have sidelined Ramsgate residents and their wishes.

      I think the council’s main objective is to get as much money as they can for the site rather than deliver something beneficial for Ramsgate.

      What the developer’s objective here has been is still something of a mystery and perhaps it is something that we will never unravel. The strange factor that having taken on building between an unsupported chalk cliff and the sea, which must be one of the most demanding places to build anything, no evidence that the developer has ever built anything else has ever emerged…

      Where we go with Cardy and the cliff I just don’t know, they just don’t have a history of creating building disasters and I guess they must know that the council just don’t have the funds to maintain the cliff to a standard suitable for people to live under it for the next 100 years.

      Certainly in purely economic terms building the development and then trying to keep the cliff patched up doesn’t make any sense at all. I would guess if anyone seriously wanted to build a large residential development under a cliff, the first thing they would do is build a substantial cliff support structure that they expected to last for roughly the same length of time as the development.

      Obviously I have been revisiting all the aspects of the project and there are parts of it that seem so bonkers I feel there must be something here I have completely missed

    2. I had always thought the selling of the freehold was something dreamed up by the tories in 2006 however having reread the Ramsgate Renaissance opportunity written to bring developers onboard in 2002 it clearly states the Labour Party were going to sell the freehold

    3. This is like sitting down to find that the movie is the same one you have watched several times before with the identical ridiculous storylines thrown in to try and make the plot more exciting. The cliff about to become an avalanche, the missing FRA which must surely result in tidal waves and enormous machine plant, that just happened to have been left on the beach by some over indulged rich kid, hurled into the new structure whilst her indoors shrieks "Darling, there is a crane in the bath."

      One can but hope, but the resurrection of Pleasurama can only lead to more repeats, as if the BBC do not provide enough already, around the blogs and more wild speculation, oft supported by the fact that the writer spent a short time with an engineering firm. Why can't we all just accept that being Thanet and a Margate based council looking at Ramsgate, doom and gloom is the inevitable result regardless of the ramblings of the Ramsgate purveyor of books or the worthies of FORS. As the missionary Wickes declared "You're all going to die!"

    4. This sounds so much like John Hamilton!! anon 9:08 Is he back?

    5. Hardly, Barry, for not an 'f' word in sight and no personalised insults. Seems a reasonable assessment of the situation to me for this is very much 'here we go again' stuff.

    6. Barry,

      Whether or not anon is 'John Hamilton' is not really the point. The question that you should be asking is whether the anon is right? Which by any fair and informed assessment he is, in my experience.

    7. Have either of you read the structural report on the state of the cliff face in 2010 and the recommendations at the end?

    8. Bit hard to say Barry, I guess a problem would be the large amount of anon comments, which I guess are due mostly to the counter on the sidebar. What I am getting at here is that I now get so many that don’t comply to the blog guidelines below that as soon as I get to an obscene swearword, libel, spam and so on I delete without reading the rest of the comment. My day off today and I would think I had the best part of 100, managed with my mobile where I happened to be.

      I must stress here that this only applies to the anon comments, I am much more careful in reading the comments made by known local commentators, I very seldom have to delete any of these.

      Anyway for anon comment to get through the net it has to be compliant so no one would have noticed any non compliant comment as it wouldn’t have appeared.

      I suppose these great yawn, it’s all so beneath me comments boarder on trolling, but sorting out this sort of thing requires the sort of semantics that I just don’t have the time for.

      William and John with the Pleasurama site yes it will be here we go again here because it is a major and important local issue which I understand and therefore feel duty bound to post about. Perhaps you would review the situation read the post properly and see if you have any worthwhile comments to make relating to the problem.

      On the main issue here which is the development, the situation has changed radically as we seem to be moving from having a developer with no track record of having developed anything, to a firm that are one of the best and most experienced developers in the area.

      The underlying problem though is that Cardy found serious flaws with the condition of the cliff façade, wrote a report detailing these flaws, see the link in the post, and then carried on with the development without addressing the cliff condition.

      They also appear to have ignored the discovery that the sea defence was in an unknown condition despite the fact that it is what holds the sand supporting the building’s foundations in place.

      Now it may very well be that this was because of pressure from the developer for whom they were main contractors, however now I feel reluctant to support them until they clarify their position regarding the safety issues relating to the development.

      The fact remains that the planning consent remains and is likely to remain valid if the council repossesses the site and then market it another developer, and if this happens it is very unlikely that the other developer would be as good as Cardy.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. SG I wouldn’t think exaggerating the problems is going to help anyone, the cliff is about 65 feet high and the ground there isn’t industrial slag but chalk spoil, which would be very unstable laid on the sand, that the foundations sit on, which would normally be very stable if it wasn’t for the uncertainty over the sea defence.

    11. Dreams and Nightmares are always exaggerated depending on which side of the fence you sit. The reaction to our presence on the clifftop is testimony to that.

    12. Reckon Cardy, with their reputation to uphold, will investigate all your concerns before they put their name to this project as both developer and builder. Do not disagree with Michael's and Barry's assumption that all the world are idiots when applied to councillors, but not in the case of a commercial builder who wants to stay in business.

  2. Why not get Anne Gloag to take over the Pleasurama development and why she is at it she could also buy the Port of Ramsgate and provide a worthwhile asset for the town, A bit like being the Roger de Hann of Folkestone.

  3. I suspect that they avoided piled foundations, and a percussion or augered piling rig would cause vibration and potential damage to the cliff


    1. SENSIBLE the choices here were driven piles or bored piles, there was never any question of percussion augured piling as the boring would be through sand, chalk and possibly clay – that is assuming Thanet’s geology hasn’t changed over night and we are now living on granite.

      For those of you who don’t have SENSIBLE’s technical knowledge of drilling holes, this is the difference between using an ordinary electric drill to make a hole and using a hammer drill, and as I am sure most people will understand you don’t need to use a hammer drill to make a hole in chalk or sand, in fact the vibration would make the situation around the hole into a mess.


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