Letter to Roger Gale MP

On Monday 27 January 2003, the Save Dreamland Campaign issued a formal letter to Margate MP Roger Gale, asking for help. This is the full text of the letter, which was issued by the Campaign's Sarah Vickery.

Dear Mr Gale,

I am writing on behalf of the Save Dreamland Campaign to voice our serious concerns about the planned closure of Dreamland, the possible change of use of the site away from a tourist attraction land use, and the loss of the historic Scenic Railway. I am Vice-Chair of the Isle of Thanet Tourism Association, and proprietor of the Shell Grotto, a Grade I listed tourist attraction in Margate, which doubles as the Save Dreamland Campaign headquarters. Campaign membership includes local residents, tourism businesses, Margate holidaymakers and a number of local, national and international heritage organisations (including Margate Historical Society, Save Britain’s Heritage and the Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain). In all, I speak for well over 12,000 people who have signed up to the Campaign and who do not want to lose Margate’s biggest tourist attraction and its nationally important historic landmark.

It has been made absolutely clear to me by the members of this Campaign that Margate cannot survive the loss of Dreamland. It brings tens of thousands of tourists to the town every year (a survey undertaken by Thanet District Council last year showed that 25% of visitors to the town had visited Dreamland). The fact that the current owner now plans to retire would seem to be the only reason why the Council is considering changing the use of the site away from tourism. That simply is not a good enough reason. It is not acceptable that one man’s retirement can bring the tourist industry of a whole town to its knees.

The proposals put forward by Stadium Developments and Jimmy Godden are not proposals for a tourist attraction. They are for retail and leisure. As you say yourself on your own website: “The right mix of sports, other leisure and retail outlets under one roof could, if offered by the developer, give us the facilities that the Town so desperately needs.” I am very concerned that you seem to be abandoning Margate as a tourist resort, and all our members back up my concerns. There is a very big difference in ‘leisure’ and ‘tourism’. Leisure provides, as you rightly say, facilities for local people. Tourist attractions, on the other hand, bring people into a town. To suggest that replacing one with another is an opportunity is to almost completely miss the point. The Dreamland site must stay in tourism use, or Margate’s other tourism businesses - the hotels, shops, cafes and amusement arcades – will struggle to survive. The proposed change of use is, in any event, contrary to the statutory development plan, and therefore very good reasons have to be given to override the Plan. The only reason that we have seen so far is that the site’s owner wants to retire!

Dreamland has been progressively run down by its owner over the past few years, both in terms of shrinking in size, and removing all the permanent family rides and replacing them with low-budget travelling ‘white knuckle’ rides. The place has even begun to take on a threatening atmosphere. Amusement parks operate successfully all around the coast of Britain, in towns with much smaller tourist trade than Margate. You only have to look across the Thames Estuary to Adventure Island amusement park at Southend-on-Sea. This park has been the focus of the town’s regeneration over the past seven or eight years. What Southend and Adventure Island (under the excellent management of owner Phillip Miller) has achieved is really outstanding, and can only be fully appreciated if you know what Southend was like as recently as the mid-1990s. The park now looks fantastic, and draws hundreds of thousands of people to the resort every year. Representatives of the Save Dreamland Campaign would be more than happy to accompany you on a visit to Southend to see how this has happened and the lessons that can be learnt for Margate.

Then there is the small matter of the Grade II listed Scenic Railway. As the oldest operating roller coaster in the United Kingdom, and one of only two surviving scenic railways (the only one surviving completely intact and unaltered), this really is a national treasure. It is something the resort should be proud of, not something that should be demolished. I would strongly recommend that you read the report prepared by Save Dreamland Campaign leader Nick Laister in 2001, which he submitted to English Heritage and which resulted in the ride being listed. The report can be downloaded from the Campaign website: www.savedreamland.co.uk in either ‘pdf’ or Microsoft Word format form. I think the report demonstrates that to lose this ride is simply not an option. Moving it would be almost as bad as demolishing it: listed structures like this are important partly due to their historical associations with a town; the Scenic Railway to many people is Margate. To move it would lose much of what makes it special. And its future would no longer be protected in a new location (assuming one could ever be found). 

Nick Laister, who is not only our campaign leader, but also a planning consultant who specialises in planning for tourism, has pointed out to me some key provisions within PPG15 (government policy on listed buildings). There are several policies of relevance to this case and these are presented in more detail on the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page of the abovementioned Campaign website. Paragraph 3.19 of PPG15 states that listed building consent for demolition should not be granted unless the authority (or the Secretary of State) is satisfied that real efforts have been made without success to continue the present use. This should include: "the offer of the unrestricted freehold of the building on the open market at a realistic price reflecting the building's condition". Therefore if another operator is prepared to acquire some, or all, of Dreamland and continue to operate the park and the Scenic Railway, there is no justification in planning policy terms for its demolition and redevelopment. We have seen no evidence that the freehold of the site has been offered. It concerns us greatly that the council seems to have ‘leapfrogged’ that stage of the process and is now looking at redevelopment options. They are even consulting on redevelopment options before this first stage – the marketing of the unrestricted freehold – has been undertaken.

It also seems to us that this forthcoming consultation – to be funded by the developer – is predicated on the fact that the site is not going to remain as an amusement park because it isn’t viable, and that change of use to retail or leisure (both equally inappropriate for the site) is going to happen. The consultation should aim to primarily find out whether local residents, businesses and the town’s visitors (for that is what the tourism industry relies upon) actually want to see the site change from being a visitor attraction to a retail or leisure land use.

You can see that we have a number of extremely serious concerns, and much of what Council leaders are saying is quite simply wrong. We really do feel that there is nobody in the Council who is fighting our corner - fighting for tourism. We are therefore putting our faith in you. As a matter of urgency, Nick Laister and I would like to meet with you (ideally with some senior representatives of the council) to see why the above points do not seem to have been considered to date, and how they are now going to be taken into account. We are extremely worried about the devastating effect the closure of Dreamland and the demolition of the Scenic Railway will have on Margate as a seaside resort. Please, Mr Gale, do not turn your back on tourism.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Sarah Vickery
Save Dreamland Campaign
The Shell Grotto
Grotto Hill

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