Saturday, February 05, 2011

Margate Caves- The Facts

I’m off to give a BBC South-east news interview on the Margate Caves this morning and rather than encouraging readers to visit other weblogs with their own and occasionally bizarre interpretation of the facts, I’ll share the accurate rather than imaginary detail with you here rather than look-up my comments from the earlier post on the subject.



The Margate Caves closed in 2004 following a visit from the Health and Safety Executive, who served a prohibition notice requiring essential work to be carried out. (HSE visited following a complaint that the site was not DDA compliant). Disability access is now a legal requirement that cannot be avoided and has caused similar problems for untold numbers of legacy sites across the country. At that time the owners of the business on the site were not in a position to meet the costs to carry out this work - TDC did negotiate with the owner to try and reach a resolution but a viable proposal was not put forward.

The work that is currently being undertaken at the Margate Caves site is essential to address a number of serious safety concerns and more recently those relating to vandalism. Whilst of course it would be desirable to re-open the caves to carry out the full range of work required to allow public access, this would cost the council in the ‘region’ of at least £100,000, (on-going maintenance costs over a period of time with the caves open to the public may be as much again) which in the current financial climate is simply not a viable option. Until Thanet’s economy can support the funds required to carry out this essential repairs work, the council is simply not in a position to re-open the Caves at this time.

There is absolutely no intention to dispose of the caves. The planning application for nearby houses, which is now held in abeyance as consultation continues, does mean that the existing entrance would be re-sited, however there is an alternative entrance (Forster entrance) which could be used if the caves were to re-open as a tourist attraction. If future funding can be found to carry out the necessary internal improvements then the site could be re-opened as a tourist attraction and the council would welcome and encourage this.

So to recap. Nothing is happening at present with the planning application for houses as the council continues to receive letters and representations from the public. The caves entrance has been subjected to sustained vandalism and the attention of drug users and reportedly other groups with what I would personally describe as a morbid interest in the underground environment. As a result the council has taken steps to seal the entrance to prevent any further damage or trespass.

As a consequence of the economy, Thanet District Council has to find £1.8 million of savings in its budget for the coming financial year alone. We have a number of splendid legacy buildings across the island which are also in need of attention and regular maintenance and the costs of providing such runs into millions. Margate Caves may be considered one of many worthy causes in difficult times and I hope the opportunity will arrive in the future to see them re-opened as a tourist attraction and to the standards required by HSE and DDA legislation.

Finally, uninformed suggestions I read elsewhere that money for the caves could be diverted from other equally hard-pressed local services or indeed council employees salaries or redundancy payments range from the risble, illegal and unworkable. 

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can you claim that the forster entrance could be used in the future when there has been no investigation to see if that entrance is even accessible or viable?

DrM. said...

That's my information from council officers and I was there this morning looking at the location.

Anonymous said...

Housing on the site and a relocated entrance is not the answer. The pressure group will fight this proposed decision and will eventually aquire some kind of heritage funding. The council is clearly not in a position to fund the h&s requirements and genral but should be encourging other options such as heritage funding followed by private ownership.

DrM. said...

Your'e not the first to suggest heritage funding and I'm sure you won't be the last. In the present financial climate, applications for such funding across the UK must be at an all time high as councils discover they have no funds to support assets of similar historic interest.

Readit said...

Where are you going to find the £1m per annum gap in Turner Contemporary running expenses?

DrM. said...

How many times and in how many different ways over the last five years have the public been told that the direct costs of the TC are nothing to do with TDC?

There is no TC line in the budget and the only provision lies in the overall tourism promotional effort for Margate in general.

Anonymous said...

Simon,
If you achieve nothing else this year, please please please put all of your efforts towards stopping KCC removing the roundabout at the train station and replacing it with traffic lights.
This would be an absolute catastrophe as we have already seen with the last set of lights at the other end of the seafront.

Tesco....reasonably good idea, traffic lights a bloody terrible nightmare of an idea.

oh and is it toooo soon yet to know if the council are imposing the same pathetic idea this year as last year and imposing an entry charge to the "Big Event" ? any chance this could be held at Manston ??

Peter Checksfield said...

As a cyclist, I prefer traffic lights to roundabouts (unless they're mini-roundabouts like the one near the clock tower).

DrM. said...

Not quite sure how the traffic lights came back again but the I'm not on Joint Transportation with TDC. I do have a suspicion that the resuurction may be more political than practical with local elections around the corner

As you might guess at a time of austerity events and budgets for the coming season are under close financial scrutiny

Readit said...

Are you suggesting in your previous comment that the electorate are being manipulated by the present administration of the sake of votes?

DrM. said...

No. Quite the opposite, as the matter has been excited by the Labour group, rather like the tennis courts we weren't going to build on at Montefiore or indeed the Margate Caves which closed in 2004.

Readit said...

Excuse me! But how much did the legal bill come to for the tennis courts you weren't going to build on?

DrM. said...

Off the top of my head I couldn't tell you but consider for one moment that I withdrew it from the register in July but it remained the subject of a rather one-sided and unnecessary pitched-battle in council at the end of the year!

Readit said...

Not to mention the £20,000 legal expenses for the council employed barristers at the hearing in Albion House, Ramsgate, on top of the senior council official's salaries also attending that hearing.

DrM. said...

Not that it's particularly relevant to the caves issue, two points:

1) The council has a duty to maximise its assets and the last Government instructed councils to sell everything they could to raise money in the absence of central government funding

2) Many of these issues are in fact easily resolved by consultation and discussion but invariably become a political football. I've changed this I hope since I took the portfolio over in May of last year and the evidence supports it I hope!

Readit said...

The relevance to Margate Caves is quite simple, to an independent observer. If £20,000 legal fees and probably another £20,000 in council officer's wasted time, had been directed to Margate's Caves, you would have nearly half of the amount being quoted for initial repairs.

DrM. said...

Half of nothing remains nothing Readit!

Tony Beachcomber said...

As a historic attraction I think there would be very little to offer to make it an interesting venue unless the items that were recovered from the well can be found . On the otherhand it is that combination of art and history that will make it appealing, the trouble is at what cost ?