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Legal bid over Margate’s Dreamland site thrown out

PUBLISHED: 10:28 09 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:28 09 October 2013

Margate seafront

Margate seafront

Archant

Thanet District Council can push on with plans for a heritage theme park

It’s been a long and difficult road.

Blighted by uncertainty on what should have been an exciting journey; cynics around every corner predicting a bleak future.

Dreamland in Margate has, after all, sat desolate for some six years, a stark reminder of what used to be. No-one can blame the community for becoming disheartened.

But it was the community, with the help of Thanet District Council, which came to the rescue.

A six-year campaign by local people to save the site from redevelopment and instead preserve this important part of British culture led to the creation of the Dreamland Trust and the plan to turn it into world’s first heritage amusement park.

But it was never going to be easy.

Legal battles ensued, TDC served a compulsory purchase order (CPO) and appeals were submitted by the then-owner to try and put a stop to the council and trust’s plans.

It was, ironically, a rollercoaster journey to where they are today.

But in what has finally sealed a bright future for the site, the Court of Appeal this week threw out a legal bid by DreamlandLive, previously the Margate Town Regeneration Company.

The firm, which owned the site for years, was attempting to challenge the High Court’s decision to uphold the council’s CPO.

DreamlandLive said it wanted to redevelop the site itself with a mix of entertainment funded by “much-needed” quality housing.

But critics argued the company had previously failed to do anything with the site and it had sat empty for years, therefore it was time for someone else, namely the Dreamland Trust and its supporters, to take over.

Jan Leandro, heritage and engagement manager at the trust, told KoS the defeat of the appeal was a significant step forward.

“It’s been frustrating, more than anything else because it’s slowed us down,” she said.

“We’ve done as much background work as possible but we couldn’t push forward with the physical work.

“This will now start in January after surveys are done over the next eight weeks. These were done two years ago, but have to be carried out again after the long delay.

“We’re now moving towards an opening of Easter 2015.”

Movement on the site is expected to revive tired hopes of a future for the seaside attraction and next spring a visitors’ space will open on the seafront to engage with people about the project.

“We’ll be doing events next year and lots of activities – we want to have a viewing platform,” said Ms Leandro.

“It’s all the build up to the opening.”

Work is now under way to protect the three important heritage assets on the site; the Grade ll listed Scenic Railway, the Grade ll listed cinema building and the Grade ll Menagerie Cages – the oldest zoo cages in the UK.

The Dreamland Trust and renowned HemingwayDesign team – the company belonging to Red or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway –will also continue to lead on developing a brand and progress with the creative design of the park.

Labour leader of TDC, Clive Hart, said Dreamland was a precious asset for Thanet and he was thrilled with the Court of Appeal ruling.

Although ownership of the site transferred to the council on September 3, an appeal by the owners meant a question mark had hovered over its future.

“It marks a key milestone for the future of Dreamland,” said Cllr Hart.

“With significant external funding in place and overwhelming public support, we have remained confident in our vision to create a world class visitor attraction on this site.

“We are committed to delivering this landmark project and believe the compulsory purchase of the land was the only viable option to save and restore Dreamland, given the unacceptable length of time it has remained empty.”

The heritage park – or rather, an “amusement park of thrilling historic rides” which the council insists it is called – is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme and TDC.

The first phase will cost £10m.

At the very heart of the proposals is the much-loved Scenic Railway, built in 1920 and the UK’s oldest rollercoaster.

It has a turbulent past, surviving a fire by a suspected arsonist in April 2008 where its middle section was destroyed.

The ride, which needs restoring, is set to be the focal point of the restored site.

Jan Leandro said: “I’ll be nervous with the first ride on the Scenic Railway – it will be a really important moment, what we have been working towards.

KoS contacted DreamlandLive for a comment but received no reponse.

Previously, chairman Toby Hunter has criticised the council’s plans saying they were not financially viable.

Instead DreamlandLive wanted to revive its own project, which involved an amusement park and 500 homes.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hunter criticised the council’s handling of the site.

“There is supposed to be a fire alarm, there is supposed to be a security system, CCTV and security, and yet the door is open and its open to the public.

“There are squatters there.”

Ms Leandro said now the site was officially in council hands security was in place and the site secured.

Timeline of the legal battle:

TDC serve a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the Dreamland site owners - June 3, 2011

Landowners challenge the CPO and it goes to public inquiry - January 2012

TDC receive approval from the Secretary of State for the CPO - August 2012

Landowners challenge the decision by the Secretary of State

Two-day hearing takes place at the High Court – March 20-21, 2013

High Court dismisses the challenge against the Secretary of State

Landowners appeal the High Court decision in late May 2013

Cabinet agree to authorise a general vesting declaration, a way of acquiring the land – August 1, 2013

Site transfers to TDC – September 3, 2013

Court of Appeal hearing - September 25, 2013

Appeal dismissed - October 8, 2013.

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