The Save Dreamland Campaign is today celebrating an important victory in the fight to retain Margate's historic amusement park. An independent Government inspector has stated that Dreamland should remain an amusement park and the listed Scenic Railway roller coaster at its centre should be protected.
Campaign Leader, Nick Laister, said: "This is fantastic news, and shows that the position we took against the Council was a robust one. The Inspector has accepted every single one of the points we made at last year's Public Inquiry and has rejected virtually every point made by the Council and the site's owner. The Council had maintained that Dreamland was no longer viable and were happy to allow the site to be redeveloped for other uses. The Inspector found the evidence of the Save Dreamland Campaign to be compelling and has asked the Council to change the Local Plan to ensure the protection of the amusement park."
"I am also delighted that the Inspector asked for the Scenic Railway to be retained. He described the Scenic Railway as an ‘extraordinary building' and was satisfied that it would be viable, even as a stand-alone attraction. Importantly, however, he stated that the setting of the Scenic Railway must also be conserved. He said that this will prevent the site from being used for anything other than an amusement park. We are absolutely delighted about this verdict."
Nick Laister, who gave evidence at the Inquiry on behalf of the Campaign, added: "We will be watching the Council very closely now, to ensure that it makes the appropriate modifications to its Local Plan."
This recommendation is contained in the long-awaited Inspector's Report on the Thanet Local Plan Public Inquiry. The Inquiry, held in June 2004, heard evidence from the Save Dreamland Campaign, which had objected to the Council's U-turn on protecting Dreamland. Until January 2003, Thanet District Council was committed to retaining Dreamland but, following representations made by the site's owner in early 2003 (after the statutory deadline for representations to the Local Plan had expired), they changed the Local Plan Policy so that it would allow Dreamland to be completely redeveloped. The Save Dreamland Campaign vigorously objected to this U-turn.
In his Report, the Inspector noted that the Council had re-written the policy "after private discussions with the owner of the site", which took place after the public consultation period had ended and stated that "no record of the meeting has been presented in evidence".
The Inspector also saw through the park's recent decline, noting that its current "run-down ambience…is partly a matter of management." He concluded that "Dreamland could be managed more intensively".
Susan Marsh MBE, who acted as advocate at the Inquiry for the Campaign, said:
"The Council told us that they changed the policy because they believed the park to be no longer viable, despite the fact that established operators have publicly stated their willingness to acquire the site and invest millions of pounds in new rides and attractions. What the Council did not seem to realise was that operators of visitor attractions were being priced out by their policy U-turn, which allowed for other forms of development that may attract higher land values. The Inspector took a firm line on this, criticising the Council's approach.
"Most councils recognise that these sort of tourist sites need to be protected for the benefit of the local economy – unfortunately, this was not the case with Thanet District Council. I think that the Inspector's Report is a great outcome for the town, its residents, businesses and its millions of visitors."
The Inspector criticised the Council's replacement policy for Dreamland, stating that it "maximises speculative interest in the site and encourages hope values beyond any ordinary expectation", stating that "dereliction would be the most likely outcome". He partly blamed the Council for the park's current situation, stating the Council's own policy "would generate the very harmful [redevelopment] pressure which the Development Plan seeks to avert".
He also stated that "convincing expert evidence was brought to the Inquiry to show that other prospective leisure operators consider an up-to-date amusement park at Dreamland is an attractive venture."
One of the operators that have made a bid for the site is Southend's Adventure Island, one of the UK's most popular seaside amusement parks. Its owner, Philip Miller, wants to turn Dreamland into a major regional amusement park destination and has already publicly promised an initial £10m investment in the park, with a restored Scenic Railway at its centre.
The Inspector also completely ruled out a commercial retail development on the site; however, he did say that souvenir shops and craft shops would be acceptable on a minor scale.
To organise interviews, please contact Nick Laister (Campaign Leader) on 01235 838214 (day), 07778 207036 (mobile) or 01235 762186 (evenings and weekends) or Sarah Vickery (Campaign Coordinator) on 01843 220008. Or email dreamland.co.uk">firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about the Save Dreamland Campaign visit the campaign's website at dreamland.co.uk">www.savedreamland.co.uk/. Nick Laister's Proof of Evidence to the Public Inquiry can be downloaded from the website.