With origins dating back to the opening of the Tivoli Gardens in 1829, the Dreamland site has been essential to the identity of Margate for almost 200 years. Over its long history it has entertained millions and, in the mind of many, the words ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Margate’ are almost synonymous. The site forms a natural balance to Margate Sands, and this has always been at the root of its success.
Thanet District Council and English Heritage have worked towards protecting the historic structures on the Dreamland site since the 1990s. In 1997 the Council designated Margate Seafront, including Dreamland Cinema, as a conservation area and in 1999 the Council applied to have the Scenic Railway listed. They were also responsible for serving a Building Preservation Notice on Sanger’s menagerie cages in 2008 – which were subsequently listed – and applying to have the listing grades of both the Cinema and the Scenic Railway reviewed. The status of both of these structures was upgraded to II*.
Following an act of arson to the Scenic Railway in April 2008, the Council erected a security fence around the structure. Shortly after this event the Council engaged the services of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust to look at the future of the site and this partnership led to application for grant aid for the site to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment under their ‘SeaChange’ programme. The funding application was based on an agreement with the owners of the site that they would transfer 51% of Dreamland – including the listed structures – to a charitable trust that would run it as an amusement park and that the development of the rest of the site by the owners would provide funding to restore the Park. In the event, the Council were awarded £3.7m towards a new Dreamland Amusement Park in November 2009. This was followed in 2011 by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant aiding £3m towards the project.
In late 2010 Thanet District Council served the first of a series of Urgent Works Notices under the Planning Acts on the owners of Dreamland instructing them to return the listed structures on the site into good repair. The owners failed to carry out any work in accordance with these Notices and the District Council have subsequently carried out repairs in default.
In May 2011 Thanet District Council’s Cabinet moved to serve a compulsory purchase notice on the owners of Dreamland. The owners objected to the notice and the matter was brought to a public inquiry in early 2012. In August 2012 the Secretary of State upheld the compulsory purchase for the entire Dreamland site. The Secretary of State observed that “…he was satisfied that there was a compelling case in the public interest for confirming the Order”.
The owners then appealed to the High Court on the grounds that the Secretary of State had acted outside his powers in confirming the compulsory purchase. The case was heard in March 2013 and in May the High Court dismissed the appeal. The owners then appealed to the Court of Appeal.
At the beginning of September 2013, the freehold of the entirety of the historic Dreamland site came into the ownership of the District Council. On 8th October 2013, three Judges sitting in the Court of Appeal dismissed the owners’ appeal observing that “the need for regeneration for the economic and social benefit of Margate was overwhelming”.