|Press Release: |
Now is your chance to help save the Scenic Railway at Dreamland, Margate! As some of our members might be aware, Thanet District Council has commissioned consultants to produce a Masterplan for Margate, including Dreamland. The Council is now undertaking a consultation on the Masterplan, which ends on 13 April 2004. One of the questions asked in the consultation is whether the Scenic Railway should be retained on the site, re-sited, or not retained at all. If you want to see the Scenic Railway saved (and our research has shown that the only way it can be saved is by retaining it on the site), you must complete the questionnaire before 13 April. The questionnaire can be completed online at this link: http://www.thanet.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=345.
Please take the time to complete the questionnaire and help save the Scenic Railway!
For those interested in reading more about the Masterplan, its likely impact on Dreamland's future, and how you can make a difference, read on...
The Campaign has viewed the full Masterplan (which can be bought on CD-ROM from the Council for £3 plus p&p), and we have a number of serious concerns. We propose to make these concerns known on the questionnaire and we will be writing to the Council to set out our concerns more fully. If you are also concerned, please write to the Council and say so. Our concerns are:
1. Question 5 (regarding the future of the Scenic Railway) is a loaded question. The question starts with the clause "When a high quality development is secured for the Dreamland site..." From the wording of this question, it seems that the decision has already been made and our views don't matter. Despite the fact that the retention of the Scenic Railway in an amusement park is one of the options considered in the report, it has been inexplicably excluded from the Questionnaire. This is not acceptable and we must tell the Council that it is not acceptable. The question as written is predicated on the park closing, and therefore Margate losing its biggest tourist attraction.
2. In answering that question, one of the options (in my personal view, the only option worth supporting) is for the Scenic Railway to be "retained on the site as part of the development". We suggest that if you want to see the Scenic Railway saved, you should tick the box to have it retained on site as part of the development “at all costs”, but make it clear in the space at the end of the questionnaire that your preference is to have it retained within an amusement park. In terms of resiting the ride, we have spoken to three of the Scenic Railway's brakemen, past and present, and they all confirm that it cannot be moved as most of the wood will need to be ripped out of the ride rendering it impossible to rebuild. We have also searched extensively for another site in the town which could accommodate the ride, and at which it could operate as a viable tourist attraction; quite simply, there is no other site. And, of course, if it were moved it would no longer be protected by its listed building status. Considering that the Scenic Railway is standing in the middle of a viable amusement park that several operators would like to acquire and invest in, we believe the only option is for it to remain at Dreamland.
3. We also have much wider concerns about the Masterplan. The consultants do not appear to recognise the importance of Dreamland to Margate. Even in its current run-down state it attracts almost 700,000 visitors every year. With a committed owner, the park would comfortably attract over 1 million visitors to the town - look how successful other seaside parks are. Just because the current owner wants to secure some redevelopment value at the site is not a good reason to discard this option.
4. The consultants have not investigated whether there interest from established operators in acquiring and operating the site. We know that there is. The consultants do not seem to be aware of this and therefore seem to just accept that closure and redevelopment is a forgone conclusion. That is wrong, and seriously undermines the Masterplan. If they had consulted the Save Dreamland Campaign as promised, they would know that.
5. What is worse, none of the options they suggest for the site would act as a tourist attraction. They believe the Dreamland site should become just “another piece of the town”, with streets and buildings and a public park. In other words, the amusement park (and probably the Scenic Railway) will be lost if the consultants' proposals are implemented. The consultants suggest a number of uses for the site: commercial leisure uses (e.g. cinema, bowling, bingo, health & fitness, night clubs); a mix of pubs, bars and restaurants; a resort casino; hotel development; leisure retailing; public open space; and public sector sports facilities. You will note that none of these proposals (with the possible exception of the resort casino) are for a tourist attraction. None of the uses would attract people into Margate, certainly not in the numbers that an amusement park would. In other words, they want to replace an amusement park which could comfortably attract well over a million people to the town every year with a series of buildings that are nothing more than local leisure facilities. This will seriously undersell Margate. The most astonishing fact is, on reading the full document in more detail, the consultants do not believe that their proposals can be built without public sector subsidy! Yet they have totally ignored the one opportunity that is already on the table (i.e. a multi-million pound theme park) and would bring large numbers of people into the town!
At the public meeting on 30 March 2004, a representative from Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design Ltd (the lead consultants) was asked if she was aware that more than one established theme park operator has confirmed an interest in acquiring the site, has pledged millions of pounds in new rides and park infrastructure, and has made offers for the acquisition of the site at full, independently-assessed, market value, but had been turned down. The Tibbalds representative said that she was not aware of this interest from theme park operators.
If only they had properly consulted us (as we were promised), they would have known about this. This is, after all, the only serious proposal currently on the table, and would result in a completely new-look Dreamland, centred on the Scenic Railway, drawing hundreds of thousands – most likely millions - of people to the town! This could be the catalyst for Margate's regeneration. As it stands, we believe the Masterplan is seriously flawed and the consultants need to go back to 'square one'. They need to correct the numerous errors in the document, undertake the proper research, carry out the full stakeholder consultation we were promised, and present us with a masterplan worthy of Margate, one that harnesses the interest already shown in Dreamland by major theme park operators and one that recognises Margate's potential as one of the south of England's leading seaside resorts. A few subsidised local leisure facilities and an area of public open space are no replacement for a major tourist attraction, and the consultants should have recognised that. They are certainly not a good enough reason to lose the Scenic Railway.
In short, it is our view that the current draft Masterplan could be disastrous for Margate, and the Council needs to know that.
If members agree with us, we would strongly urge you to complete the questionnaire online at http://www.thanet.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=345 before 13th April 2004 and tell the Council of your concerns.
If you have any questions about the Masterplan, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will do all I can to help. But please do make your views known by completing the questionnaire. And if you know other people who want to see Dreamland and the Scenic Railway saved (and who might be as disappointed as we are with this ill-informed, poorly researched document), please tell them about this consultation.
But whatever you do, please don't forget - Dreamland and the Scenic Railway need your help before 13 April!
Save Dreamland Campaign