Summary of Questions asked at the Council meeting on 31.03.2022
Questions from Councillors
Question from Cllr Gregory to Cllr Pugh, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development
Many of Thanet’s heritage of theatre venues that have, in the past, attracted large audiences & are either closed, now derelict due to lack of routine maintenance or are imminent to shut, possibly lost to the Thanet & its visiting community forever.
What plans does TDC have for Westcliff concert hall in Ramsgate, the Granville Theatre Ramsgate, the Theatre Royal Margate & the Winter Gardens Margate for them to be restored to their former glory?
- The Granville Theatre on Victoria Parade, Ramsgate, was built in the 1940s, originally as a theatre, with a cinema screen added later. The Theatre was owned by the Council, but had been managed by leaseholders since 1998. The building was leased to Granville Theatre Ltd in 2007, but that arrangement came to an end in November 2020, when the lease was surrendered. The building has been closed since the start of the national COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
- The building was last surveyed in 2017 and this highlighted an extensive list of necessary maintenance, with a total cost estimated at £152,000. In addition to this, the roof was in a particularly poor condition and repairs were estimated to cost around £250,000.
- In July 2021, members of Thanet District Council’s Cabinet agreed to transfer the Granville Theatre into the hands of a community organisation, if a viable bid was put forward. In October 2021, community groups were invited to express their interest in bidding for the freehold of the building, and the right to continue to operate it. Commercial property agents would shortly be offering the building on the open market, inviting proposals that reflected the status, condition and future use of the property. Eligible community groups, including the Kent Film Foundation, would have the opportunity to bid alongside commercial organisations.
- The Granville Theatre held fond memories for many local people and was a distinctive local landmark. It was encouraging to see the huge amount of positive local support for its redevelopment. The Council was committed to securing a positive future for the building, which would benefit the local community for generations to come.
- Westcliff Hall in Ramsgate was in private ownership and therefore not a matter the Council could comment on beyond sharing a view that we very much want to see it developed positively.
- The Theatre Royal formed part of the Margate Town Deal. Within the Town Deal Scaling Creative Production and Skills intervention, there was a £2m allocation for the Theatre Royal project. The Town Investment Plan stated that this would be used to improve the Theatre Royal and surrounding environment, to create a new hub of theatrical production. This project would:
- Go beyond capital improvements and reimagine the Theatre Royal to ensure a sustainable future.
- Safeguard this heritage asset, and provide opportunities for the local community to become part of the town and district’s growth within creative production.
- Ensure that more people, from a diverse range of backgrounds had an involvement in or enjoyment of creative production.
- Improve the local economy, including the night time economy, diversify the visitor experience, and create jobs and training opportunities.
- Require a new operator and coalition of interested parties to enable the theatre to thrive commercially and for the benefit of the community.
- Support capital works to repair and restore the theatre to enable a sustainable future for the building and its communities.
- The Margate Town Deal Board has asked the Government for revenue funding to support the Margate Winter Gardens in the development of a long-term plan. As a result, there was now £300,000 of revenue funding allocated for the Winter Gardens project.
- This funding would enable a piece of work which would provide a clear vision and detailed project delivery plan for the Winter Gardens’ future, including how it could operate in tandem with the other leisure venues and key heritage assets in Margate, such as Dreamland and the Theatre Royal.
Councillor Gregory followed up her question by asking why had regular routine maintenance not taken place on these buildings?
Councillor Pugh responded that the Council wished to see these assets returned back to their former glory, however the Council’s budget was tight. It should not always be the job of the Council to renovate premises if there was a community group that could bring the property back to its former glory, or even better.
Question from Cllr Rawf to Cllr Ashbee, The Leader of the Council
Travellers issues have been ongoing for some time, the working party has been set up for nearly 2 years to allocate a place for them, can the Leader reassure us we will hear the results soon?
- It was decided that suitable sites for Gypsy and Traveller accommodation should be identified through the Local Plan process.
- The site search and allocation process for the Local Plan update was being undertaken at the moment. The tests for site allocation were “availability, suitability and achievability”, which meant that landowners had to be willing for their sites to be brought forward; they must be suitable in planning terms (across a range of matters); and be capable of delivery within the Plan period.
- No sites were proposed to the Council specifically for consideration as Gypsy and Traveller sites, which meant that the site search work had to be extended.
Councillor Rawf followed up his question by asking if the Leader could find a solution for the families at the Port of Ramsgate.
The Leader responded that she could help those families by finding a long term solution and site. It was a priority to find a stopping and permanent site. The Council had bid for funding that, if successful, could offer a solution in the future.
Question from Cllr Everitt to Cllr Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Youth Engagement
Can the cabinet member flush away rumours that the future of the Pier Yard toilets, which provide the main public conveniences for Ramsgate Main Sands, is in doubt? Is this Conservative administration, which has no Ramsgate councillors on its front bench, considering pulling the chain on them?
- A decision on the future of all the toilets across the District needed to be taken, and a strategy to deal with the issue was being developed that covered a range of options. Any proposal would go to Cabinet for a decision.
- The Cabinet worked for the benefit of the whole district.
Councillor Everitt followed up his question by asking what people should do in future if all the public conveniences in the vicinity were shut?
Councillor Kup advised that he could not answer that.
Question from Cllr Austin to Cllr Pugh, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development
In light of the confusion and upset over the future of Ramsgate’s Granville Theatre, I’d be grateful if you could clarify the current situation and our process as a Council going forward.
In your helpful responses to residents who’ve expressed concern, understandably you’ve stressed our need to ensure best value. Sadly, ‘best value’ in Ramsgate to date has consistently been interpreted as sale to the highest bidder, leaving important buildings like Westcliff Hall, the Western Undercliff Café and 18 Albert Street derelict, generating significant negative ongoing value for residents and our visitor economy.
We were delighted to see the Granville featured as a key attraction in our Regeneration Team’s recently published Ramsgate Future plan. Could you please outline the process we will follow for this important asset from now on, and explain what we are doing to ensure the Granville elements of the Ramsgate Future plan can still be delivered?
- Some of the response would be the same as the response to Councillor Gregory’s question.
- In July 2021, members of Thanet District Council’s Cabinet agreed to transfer the Granville Theatre into the hands of a community organisation, if a viable bid was put forward. In October 2021, community groups were invited to express their interest in bidding for the freehold of the building, and the right to continue to operate it. A submission from the Kent Film Foundation (KFF) was received which was considered by a panel of officers from across the Council. The submission was scored in strict accordance with the Community Asset Transfer Policy.
- The Council had a duty to residents to make sure that any community group wanting to take on a public building could evidence that they had the skills and experience required, and that the project had a long term future that would benefit the wider community.
- Unfortunately the KFF submission did not provide adequate designs or costings for the refurbishment of the building, lacked proof of funding and a realistic business plan. Supporting information for other requirements, including an inclusion and diversity policy, were also missing. In addition, some key elements of the proposal were at risk of not receiving planning permission due to a required change of use application for a building of listed status.
- Commercial property agents would shortly be offering the building on the open market, inviting proposals that reflected the status, condition and future use of the property. Eligible community groups, including the Kent Film Foundation, would have the opportunity to bid alongside commercial organisations.
Councillor Austin followed up her question by asking if Cabinet were committed to keeping the future of the building as an entertainment venue?
Councillor Pugh responded that Cabinet were committed to achieve the best future for the building, this could be private ownership or ownership by a community group.
Question from Cllr Whitehead to Cllr D Saunders , The Cabinet Member for Finance
Inconsiderate and prohibited parking in disabled bays has a significant impact on disabled individuals, and we have a legal responsibility to members of communities with protected characteristics to consider and address disproportionate impacts in order to provide equity of access and support.
I believe that our current disabled parking strategy not only fails to address this impact but also means that we are not appropriately meeting our Public Sector Equality Duty. I would like to ask Councillor Saunders to commit to a review of our disabled parking strategy, in full consideration of our equality duty and the impact that an inability to access or leave your home can have on individuals who need our support in relation to a protected characteristic.
We are in the process of recruiting a consultant to review the whole parking provision across the district including the issues associated with a range of vulnerable groups, this will subsequently lead to the development of a new Parking Strategy to ensure that all parking provision is fit for purpose now and also in the future.
Question from Cllr Farrance to Cllr Ashbee, The Leader of the Council
The Local Plan states that developments should provide 30% affordable homes. But, this can be reduced if it makes the proposed development unviable. Viability ensures an average profit of 17%. ( for example – a profit of £10 million plus for the land developer of 450 houses at Shottendane).
Our residents desperately need so much more affordable housing, not luxury housing.. Why?
– we have the lowest average salary in Kent
– we have the highest unemployment rate of 7.2% in Kent (average 4%)
– We are the most deprived local authority in Kent.
– We have the highest rough sleeping rates in Kent (even higher than London)
In view of the above unique needs of Thanet. And the fact that we have a 100% affordable development of 153 smaller homes for shared ownership and social rent at Westwood acres
When will TDC seek to revise its affordability requirements?
There is a significant need for affordable housing in Thanet, and this is recognised in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment reports for the Council, the Local Plan and the Council’s Housing Strategy. This informs the policy requirement.
However, Government guidance is clear that local planning authorities should not apply requirements in a way that renders development unviable. Affordable housing provision has to be considered alongside a range of other contributions required with new development (education; health; transport/highways; open space; etc). In both the Local Plan process and in dealing with planning applications, the viability of development must be considered.
The Council will be reviewing the affordable housing policy as part of the Local Plan update.
Question from Cllr Crittenden to Cllr Pugh, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Economic Development
Has the leader noted the extent of public concern in Ramsgate and beyond about the future of the Granville Theatre. What steps is she taking to address this concern and reassure the public that her administration is listening to what local people obviously want.
- The Leader and Cabinet had listened to the views of local people regarding the Granville Theatre which was why, in July 2021, the Cabinet agreed to transfer the Granville Theatre into the hands of a community organisation, if a viable bid was put forward.
- The Council had a duty to residents to make sure that any community group that wanted to take on a public building could provide the evidence that it had the skills and experience to do so, and that the project had a long term future that would benefit the wider community.
- The Cabinet recognised that the Granville Theatre holds fond memories for many local people and that residents were concerned about its future.
- It was encouraging to see the huge amount of positive local support for its redevelopment.
- The Council was committed to securing a positive future for the building, which would benefit the local community for generations to come.
- It was important that the Council did not sit on assets and do nothing with them, therefore if a community group or private individual could do better than the Council with an asset that the Council owned, then that should be made a reality.
Councillor Crittenden followed up her question by asking for confirmation that the premises would not end up as flats, a supermarket or a derelict site?
Councillor Pugh responded that there were conditions that could be stipulated within a sale agreement to restrict the future use of an asset. He confirmed that a condition would be included in the sale to ensure that the premises could not be used for residential development. The Council was committed to achieving the best outcome for the premises and the wider community.
Questions from Members of the Public
Question from Mrs McCourt to Cllr Ashbee, The Leader of the Council
We know the algorithm for projected housing figures is wrong BUT what is TDC doing to press further on the identification of brownfield sites for developments, rather than digging up our prime farmland? Whilst I appreciate perhaps the approach for the Local Plan is to “ask for sites to be put forward for development” I ask why are Council Officers not being pro-active in approaching owners of brownfield sites? If it is not ‘normal practice’ then will Council Officers look towards changing this practice, particularly in light of the fact that we need our farmland for food growth/production and not houses which we do not need?
- The tests for site allocation in Government guidance were “availability, suitability and achievability,” this meant that landowners had to be willing for their sites to be brought forward; they must be suitable in planning terms; and be capable of being delivered within the Plan period.
- The call for sites was just one part of the process to identify land for residential and other development. Another part of the process was to carry out desk and site surveys to identify other sites (including brownfield sites) that met the site allocation criteria above. In cases where sites met the criteria above, the landowners were contacted to see what their intentions were for the sites in question.
- This approach had been standard practice for many years. This work was carried out for the adopted Plan, and was being undertaken at the moment to inform the Local Plan update.
- The Leader had recently spent an afternoon reviewing the list of brownfield sites and would continue to review the list regularly.
Question from Ms Brown to Cllr Ashbee, The Leader of the Council
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine people are becoming increasingly anxious about current and future food security because of that region’s importance in the global supply of grains such as wheat. Allowing the development of prime productive farmland in Thanet (that also grows wheat), will decrease our ability to grow food in this country adding to reliance on food imports. We already import 40-50% of our food. In light of this and the government’s emphasis on using brownfield for development instead of greenfields. Can you tell me are you required to actively search for brownfield sites, and if you are, what are you doing to fulfil this requirement?
- The Leader agreed that Ukraine and Russia were the breadbasket of Europe.
- The response to the question from Ms McCourt was also applicable to this question.
- There was not an absolute protection for agricultural land in Government guidance. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) said that “Where significant development of agricultural land is demonstrated to be necessary, areas of poorer quality land should be preferred to those of a higher quality”.
- The Council would ask the Government to reconsider the framework to further protect agricultural land in light of the increased pressure on food supply caused by the war in Ukraine.
Question from Mr Wainwright to Cllr Kup, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Youth Engagement
Why are you allowing the public toilets to get into such a disgusting state and a health hazard? We are a holiday town and need to look at the priorities.
Like many coastal authorities Thanet Council has provided and managed a large number of public toilets which has been a legacy issue going back to when our main resorts were thriving and before cheap holidays abroad became available to the masses. Whilst the number of toilets has significantly reduced over the last 40 years we still have a large proportion of toilets compared with other coastal authorities, at present we have 29 with 16 open all year round and 13 seasonal toilets open between March and September.
With the steady decline in funding over several years the council have had to make difficult decisions and this has subsequently reduced the amount of investment into these facilities, in terms of general upkeep and maintenance through to actual major repair or renewal. However, we are in the process of developing a strategy that will deal with these issues including how we can improve them where we can.
I can also assure you that all our toilets are cleaned at least three times a day and regularly inspected with any damage repaired as soon as possible