Monday, February 07, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I pre-recorded an interview on the Margate Caves for BBC Radio Kent (1:53:50) a little earlier. 'Rock Doc' and fellow councillor, Alasdair Bruce will also be making an appearance and hopefully, when it's aired tomorrow, the matter will finally be put to rest; at least in terms of answering every question the BBC and I can think of.

What I did say, is and I said the same to Meridian ITV News, is that until someone comes forward with a proposal or business plan, with adequate funding, there is no good reason to spend Thanet Council's funds on a detailed survey of the various public safety issues, which include the potential hazard presented Carbon Dioxide gas and more. The council's surveyors have estimated a cost of around £100,000 to bring the caves back into use, as I've written before and there is a caveat that over time it could be more.

With the council on the edge of its reserves and a tight period of austerity and spending ahead, I for one consider it would be foolish to spend any more money, beyond the £15,000 recently spent on 'Making Safe' until such a time as a source or sources of potential funding can be identified and a business plan proposed. When this happens, I'm certain the council would be very happy to explore the sum with a much tighter focus on the final figure.

Let's not forget that the council did not close the Margate Caves, it was a Health & Safety prohibition order in 2004 and the fact that the concessionaire found itself unable to run them as a profitable business, capable of carrying out the necessary maintainable that would satisfy the public safety requirements.

Am sure that the story will continue to run a little longer though and I respect the efforts of the 'Friends of Margate Caves' who are working so hard to resurrect them as as tourist attraction. Believe me, I would much rather see them open and thriving with visitors than closed and silent!

Friends of Margate Caves Website

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its essential that these caves are re opened. It's the only place that the councillors can hide when the Turner Centre turns out to be the white elephant that everyone has been telling the council it will be.

Or am i just being a little toooooooo cynical.

Anonymous said...

Simon,
Your a clever guy and at times I wonder why it is that you put up with the continual flow of excrement that seemingly always heads your way.

On one hand I try to understand your perspective on the various issues currently "HOT" in Margate, then I look at the other side of the coin and wonder how you arrive at the point(s) you do.

As someone who really desperately wants to see the whole of Thanet, not just Margate, rise up and make itself once more great,I often wonder if there are any in council who feel or have the same desire.

At present we have Hartsdown Park on the point of being destroyed, Margate caves now sealed up and the future looking bleak, Manston being treated like a cancer on the landscape and major employers such as Pfizer heading in the wrong direction.
I am really hoping that you turn out to be different from what Thanet has had before, in that the calibre and morality of its councillors has been terrible in the past.
These blogs show us who read them regularly that you are an intelligent forward thinker, I hope for all of the above current issues you can also be trusted to be morally reliable to the people of Margate and Thanet as a whole.

DrM. said...

Thank you for your encouragement but while I see matters through a moral lens I'm also bound by statutory regulation. In other words, what I or other councillors may wish to do can be and often is frustrated by the laws that direct our actions and the funds we have available. Not unlike judges and magistrates!

If you know something about Hartsdown park, let me know but I'm not aware of anything that might arbitrarily lead to its destruction or indeed move beyond its present condition!

On Margate Caves, it's simple, we have no money to support them or indeed many other worthy causes pressing for our attention at this time.

Pfizer reflects globalism which is beyond out control and Manston is the only strong card we might play but attracts negative publicity driven by a vocal minority.

I do my best but sometimes I have to do better!

Anonymous said...

Simon

I started reading through your response: "Yes agree with that, seems OK, that's fine..." then I got to the Manston bit. And as usual, the north Thanet "there's no problem with the airport" bias creeps in. And of course, the airfield is dead useful for you and your sideline.
No-one has yet made a serious business case for an airfield at the far end of the country, with a catchment zone restricted essentially by a area boundaried by the A2 and the A249 - outside this area people will opt for Stansted or Gatwick. Would you seriously consider a Manston-style airfield operation if we were talking about Newquay?

Manston is not our biggest asset, Ramsgate Harbour is probably our biggest asset if the council and its officers would let it be.

DrM. said...

It may appear strange but I have no operational link with Manston at all. My aircraft are based elsewhere and I don't use it!

as air traffic increases and London airports come under increased capacity strain. Regional hubs for passengers or cargo look more attractive but the jury is out on that one.

Ramsgate Harbour is an enormous asset but once again the centre of gravity has shifted elsewhere, which narrows the opportunities from which it can benefit. and of course it needs constant investment and care at a time when funds are increasingly hard to come by.

Anonymous said...

So Micheal Child has got it wrong & there are no plans to build a hotel on Hartsdown park then?

DrM. said...

I had though I had explained this in some considerable detail on this weblog and elsewhere. Michael is being a little mischievous!

There was a prior application to build a hotel and an enclosed stand which was granted and runs out of time this summer. The club have now asked for a more modest development. The council have said that this would require an entirely new application as it is substantially different and a full process of public consultation to accompany it.

Just because one applies for planning permission doesn't mean the imminent arrival of the diggers. I could legally apply to build a hotel in your front garden if I wished to but it doesn't mean that the application would be automatically granted!

Anonymous said...

But the previous application was approved...

TDC obviously believe they have a legal right to build on there then, whether the next application is approved or not.

DrM. said...

True it was approved and was driven by considerable support for the football club. I should stress that the application in question remained inside the existing footprint of the club and would have allowed then to improve their stands with an integral hotel. It would also have met the requirements for them to join the next league which requires conditions in regard to a club's ground and facilities.

Anonymous said...

Ramsgate Harbour. So where has the "centre of gravity" gone?

DrM. said...

Somewhere down the channel tunnel with the bulk of other cross channel traffic!

ascu75 aka Don said...

Whats wrong with Margate football club having a new stadium? The Hotel will geenerate jobs and rates for the council. The park itself will remain largely the same and still be unused. I could understand peoples concerns if Hartsdown was used but whenever I go past there are never anything or anyone in it. If it wasnn't for the football club it never get used. The lesure centre and swimming gets loads of use the skate park a few visitors and as for the rest of it I would say it is vastly unused. If this application had been deliver planning in time in 20005 Margate would have stayed in the Conference league , but in my mind Sandy disliked football and opposed the planning on every front.. That is my opinion of TDC planning department. Margate FC suffered greatly from planning delays. I doubt it was all TDC's Planning departments fault but the certainly never went out of their way to help, and with Sandy blocking them at every turn they were gaining brownie points from the Leader of the council to be used for plans they wanted at a later date. TDC is a strange place Simon.

DrM. said...

Don, the previous application was approved as it lay inside the existing footprint and it was very much a matter of the FC raising the finance to build the project, which they were unable to achieve and not a council matter.

The new application is substantially different and thus would require a new process of approval and consultation.

Michael Child said...

Simon I think you and several other commentators have missed the point in my post http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2011/02/margate-football-club-hartsdown-park.html (this is the one where assume you think I am being mischievous) which is not so much about the football club having a hotel or not having a hotel, but about the way the council has handled the issue.

The primary document available to the public here is the planning permission that the council have already granted, I did email you and ask you where the this was on the internet, prior to writing the post and had you told me the post would have probably been less mischievous.

The problem here is that all of the other planning applications that relate to Margate football club, that I can find on the council’s website, are listed under “Margate Football Club” for some reason this one isn’t, others may be listed under other things, I just don’t know.

The councils planning website is unsearchable, it is impossible to create links to the applications on it, the drawings on it are all scale drawings with no scale on them, making it impossible to tell the dimensions of any proposed building.

This is about trust and the council’s planning website makes one disinclined to trust the council, in short it looks as though the council are manipulating what is on it. This happened to you when you tried to link to plans on it, just before you became a councillor, and you were forced to change the link to where I had published them.

This is a quote from Thanet Life, one assumes the Ed means that you wrote the bracketed part.

“If you look on the government planning website (the application number is F/TH/03/1200) you may be surprised to find that there are three sets of plans. (Ed. they seem to have gone missing but here they are as a copy!)”

The council has both a press department and an information department and here is a very high profile development, with a great many people getting very excited about it, mainly because the council hasn’t published reasonable, accessible and accurate information about what it is that is going on there.

As far as I can tell from the council’s website plans for what the football club say they are going to start building could already be passed and published on the council’s website under a completely different heading, there is no easy way of finding out.

Andrew said...

Ah, an expert on cross channel traffic as well as IT and flying. On this one Simon, I'm afraid you're just plain wrong

Anonymous said...

anon again!
Margate population 57000 (google search) divided by the sum required to open the caves (100000)
= £1.75 each.
Where lies the problem? Add it to Margate's Council tax. I am sure resident's will not object to something so prestigeous.
btw, what happened to the Council Tax that was charged for our wheely bins to be emptied, that did not actually get emptied because of the recent inclement weather? This money should be donated, voluntarily, by the TDC.
Maybe I should become a Councillor too!

DrM. said...

Sorry to disappoint Andrew but as your comment came in I had our Deputy Leader sitting with me and he's on the Eurotunnel management. I'm informed that 38% of X Channel freight and close to 55% of passenger traffic now goes through the tunnel!

DrM. said...

7:20 to the 100,000 added to the council tax, take account of the £1.8 million savings we have to find this year and of course the £11 million or so which is the estimated maintenance requirement for all our legacy and historic assets and which I haven't got to hand

As regards your council tax, we did incredibly well in the snow this year and your council tax, strangely enough covers about 14% of our local services costs, the rest coming from Government and county grants.

So you can appreciate what happens when our budgets are cut and yet the council still managed to provide the coverage in the snow...!

Anonymous said...

The last comment scribe must be having a laugh. The resident's would not object is naively suggested. Since when did an element in Thanet not object to everything.

If the council were planning to spend the money to reopen the caves there would be objections. Clive Hart would probably organise a photo call at the entrance with the protest group.

By all means have a view, Anon 7:20pm; but don't make the mistakes of thinking you speak for the residents. Even TDC cannot do that and they are elected by some of them at least.

Anonymous said...

Simon,
You need a holiday mate !

Anonymous said...

I have got to ask the question: Is Don for real or is he the local joker ?
I can't quite get my head around what he is saying as it all seems utter rubbish.
Anyone with at least one ounce of intelligence can see the argument here, where as he seem to be void of even the basic grasp on reality.

Michael Child said...

Strewth Simon is the council really spending £11m on our historic assets, eight years of Conservatives management £88m and nearly all of the historic assets closed and derelict. You don’t think you have been infiltrated by another party, do you?

DrM. said...

Michael

If only it were so. No, if my remark is unclear, what I'm saying is that an estimate for the cost of repairs/maintenance to all our historic and legacy assets in Thanet is about £11 million. as you may have noticed we have a great many splendid buildings from our heyday which cost rather alot to maintain!

Andrew said...

Simon
Sorry I'm in the same business and know the facts as well as you do here. Eurotunnel business has not grown significantly in the last few years and only now, by dint of savage price cutting (which they can do because there is no real profit incentive) have they restored carryings to the level that they were at before the last fire

Andrew said...

Manston must be a real success simon doesn't even keep his planes there

Andrew said...

I've just looked Martin Wise up - UK shuttle driver manager. Oh yes, well in the know there, I expect M Gounon has him on speed dial.

DrM. said...

Other than the snide comments Andrew do you have a point. Are you saying that Martin is wrong and that the centre of X channel traffic isn't in the tunnel, if not where is it?

I keep my aircraft elsewhere for operational reasons, quick access and costs being among them. A large airport does not have the flexibility of a smaller airfield in my business

Andrew said...

Do I have a point. Yes, don't try and baffle us all with statistics. "38% of X Channel freight and close to 55% of passenger traffic now goes through the tunnel" So where does the remaining 62% of freight (a majority) and 45% of passenger traffic go? The Harbour is a major and underused asset and your glorious leader has today announced grand plans for it in the Gazette. Best toe the line Simon, election coming up.

DrM. said...

Nobody doubts that the harbour is an underused asset Andrew but at the same time let's try you with with statistics again as you appear to be struggling with the math!

I said the centre of gravity is moving to the bottom ofnthe channel tunnel. It may be a rhetorical statement but that remaining 62% of freight and 45% of passenger traffic is most likely shared to a greater extent by the ferries from Dover. I can't say for sure but it seems a reasonable assumption until someone gives me the figures.

That leaves Ramsgate as providing a useful ferry service but which we both agree is under utilised. So you me, my Glorious Leader, as you put it and everyone else, will I'm sure welcome more ferry business through the Royal Harbour, should it arrive!

Anonymous said...

anon again!
OK forget the Margate Council Tax! Just stick .77p on all of Thanet's 129000 pop, that would cover the caves business by plenty.
How about applying for a lottery donation?
These caves are historic to Margate, so why doesn't a little of the £11,000,000 (ie., interest for a few weeks) get donated to this very interesting and historical living museum?

It doesn't take brains, it takes logical common sense, to work these formulae out, Quite simple really.

Readit said...

Cllr Moores, Your writing off of Ramsgate Royal Harbour as an underused asset,just shows how little you know about it. Not only is it a cross channel port but also a leisure marina with great potential.

Currently there are over £130,000 in uncollected mooring fees in the marina. If TDC collected these fees efficiently they would have enough money to finance Margate Caves.

But that will not happen because Margate Caves are not on your list of "preferred" attractions, just as the Royal Harbour Ramsgate.

DrM. said...

"Written-off" is rather a wild statement Readit. I suggest you read carefully first and then fire off a comment, rather than the other way around.

The world has moved on since the Royal Harbour was in its heyday, as Ramsgate is no longer a major cross-channel port, a base for the icelandic cod fishing fleet or indeed a principal connection with the wood trade with Russia. As I pointed-out to Andrew, the centre of gravity has moved elsehwere and in comparative historical terms, it is under utilised.

That doesn't mean that it can't be made more attractive and its modern potential greatly developed. The council has been investing large sums in attracting leisure craft, working with the likes of Vattenfall for the offshore wind farm and indeed, making every effort to attract cross channel carriers exploring new routes.

I'm aware that the council is seeking to recover outstanding mooring fees in much the same way that it seeks to recover fees and taxes per se from those who are unable or reluctant to pay or simply disappear. That's true of any council.

To attempt, in your final statement, to work such a loose connection between Margate caves and Ramsgate harbour displays such frightening ignorance on your part that the statement doesn't deserve an answer!

Readit said...

Well DrM, I will wear your label of "frightening ignorance" as a badge of honour, because your comments here will be judged by the people of Ramsgate and they will decide who is the ignorant one in this case.

As far as my "loose connection" on finance is concerned we have already established about £40,000 was wasted on the HOOT enquiry and now £130,000 in uncollected mooring fees, a further £10,000 or more,lost by frigtening off the heritage vessels previously using the harbour, also Vattenfall denied use of slipways.

Need I go on? Or should I let the electorate decide about your "good housekeeping"?

DrM. said...

I would let the electorate decide and when you care to avail yourself of accurate information rather than pursuing your personal agenda feel free to ask questions!

Anonymous said...

Readit, as ever pursues his own agenda wherein, to fulfill such, facts are routinely twisted or even produce out of a conjurors hat.

If it comes to a choice between you, Readit, and Dr M then I am with the good docotor.

Likewise, as he suggests, why don't you put yourself up for public vote and see how you get on. I, for one, would more than happily share a hustings stand with you.

ascu75 aka Don said...

Margate caves whilst a nice idea as a business proposition it just doesnt add up. I went there once and it is a chalk cave, I didnt see queues of people standing waiting to enter them then and I wouldnt see them now. No one can make a living out of the caves and for the council to spend ever dissappearing funds on re opening them would be stupidity beyond belief.
ANONN 9.40 yEP I am for real and have a grip on reaality have a look aat my blog I am real not an ANON

Anonymous said...

Nice one Don, you can always tell when your gonna spout some old rubbish because it usually starts with" I went there once"

Do us all a favour, take a taxi to Heathrow, purchase a one way ticket to Mexico and let us know when your there.
Hopefully that should do the trick....

Bluenote said...

Strange idea on freedom of speech 9:45 PM has. If you say something not in line with his/her thinking you are supposed to leave the country.

Don is absolutely right about Margate caves not stacking up as a business proposition. Despite being a local I have never been to the caves and do not know anyone who has. I once in my young soldier days went to Chislehurst caves but that was for a disco, not to look at chalk walls.

If it had potential to make money someone would snap it up, whilst for the council to try to run it as a loss leader on resident's council tax would be irresponsible.
As a result it will stay closed until the swarms of vistors to Margate make it a potentially viable.