News: March 2003

Monday, 31 March 2003

The future of the Scenic Railway is featured on Meridian Television News. North Thanet MP Roger Gale is interviewed, and questions whether listed building consent is required to remove the ride. The report goes on:

"Talks with councillors over whether the grading is valid in this case are ongoing. It may prove to be the crux of whether the scenic railway can be saved or preserved in some way.  If permission is granted to develop the site, this summer may be Dreamland's last. In a statement, the owners of Dreamland told us, 'The situation of the future of the scenic railway has not yet been resolved. The coaster is demountable and semi-portable so it's likely that the listing may not apply at all.'"

Save Dreamland Campaign Leader, Nick Laister, said: "I am surprised that this debate is still continuing. This is hardly rocket science. Moveable objects cannot be added to the statutory list under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. It now seems that the site's owners have accepted that, so are - unbelievably - now trying to say that the ride has been listed in error so listed building consent is not required. This seems to be a somewhat extreme argument for a structure of this size and permanence. As a chartered town planner I can confirm unequivocally that removal of the Scenic Railway would require listed building consent. There is a great deal of case history on this issue, both with the Planning Inspectorate and in terms of legal precedent, which confirms this. The Save Dreamland Campaign hopes that this debate can now be laid to rest and that we can now turn our attention back to saving Margate's most-visited tourist attraction for the benefit of the town's tourism economy."

Friday, 28 March 2003

The revised Thanet Local Plan is published today for a six-week public consultation. The plan proposes a new policy (Policy T11) for the Dreamland site, which no longer protects the amusement park, but now allows for the complete site's redevelopment. This follows representations recently made to the Council by the site's owner. The consultation period ends on 9th May 2003. For details of how to object to the new policy for Dreamland, visit the Council's website:, where the entire plan and objection forms can be downloaded.

Tuesday, 25 March 2003

Today's Thanet Times featured North Thanet MP Roger Gale's continuing quest to find out whether the removal of the Grade II listed Scenic Railway requires listed building consent, under the headline "Dreamland answer is 'pathetic'":

The Government has been accused of "passing the buck" over the future of Dreamland's historic scenic railway by North Thanet MP Roger Gale. He called on ministers to clarify whether the roller coaster was regarded as a "fixed object" for the purpose of listed building consent. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister replied saying it was for the local planning authority to decide. Any interpretation of the statutes would be for the courts. Mr Gale described the reply as "pathetic": "This is important because it has implications for an historic piece of Margate's seafront heritage and the whole of the Dreamland site," he said. "The developers, the owners and those seeking to preserve Dreamland as an amusement park all need to have a definitive answer." Mr Gale has written to Thanet Council's chief planning officer, whose ruling may then be tested in the courts. "That could take months," Mr Gale admitted. "And in the meantime one of the most important sites in the town will be left in a limbo of indecision."

Local Campaign Coordinator Sarah Vickery commented: "I can't speak for the developers and owners but we are certainly not in a limbo of indecision. The Scenic Railway is a fixed object, its Grade II listed status confirms that, and it would therefore require listed building consent to move it. Roger Gale tabled this question to Tessa Jowell on 6th March, when our local Conservative group were insisting that the Scenic Railway is a portable structure and would therefore not require listed building consent to be dismantled. We had already advised Mr Gale that any plans to dismantle and move the roller coaster would have to be subject to listed building consent and we have confirmed this with Thanet District Council's Conservation Architect. We have our definitive answer Mr Gale."

Sunday, 23 March 2003

The Save Dreamland Campaign announces that the Save Dreamland Convention, planned for 19th April 2003, is to be moved to Sunday 1st June 2003 due to "unforeseen circumstances" (which include the availability of the venue and certain speakers). The event organisers have taken this opportunity to expand the programme, with more speakers, screenings of little-seen films about Dreamland through the years, and an exhibition of Dreamland memorabilia. Tickets to the 19th April Convention day will be valid on 1st June, so no action needs to be taken if you have already bought a ticket. Tickets will be sent out in the next few weeks. If the new date is not convenient, you will be given a full refund. Please contact us if you would like a refund. Click here for details of the Convention day, and how to buy tickets. 
Above: The stage is set for the Save Dreamland Convention on 1st June 2003.

Friday, 14 March 2003

Leading online US amusement park industry magazine The Loop features the Save Dreamland Campaign as its lead story in today's edition. The article notes that the Campaign is not just another lost preservation cause: 

"It might come down to money, as it usually does. However, the significant factor in the Save Dreamland Campaign, an effort to preserve the seaside amusement park in Margate, England, is that the issue of land value is being presented in a powerful new paradigm. Rather than looking at the value of said property to one entity, the campaigners are casting the debate as the value of that property to the entire community. We’re talking financial value, too, not merely nostalgia or image."

The article is based around an interview with Campaign Leader, Nick Laister:

"For one, it helps to have a planning consultant as your campaign leader. 'I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think it was worth it,' said Nick Laister, a technical director at RPS Planning, Transport and Environment, the United Kingdom’s largest planning consultancy firm. 'I’m involved in this kind of thing all the time. I know when something isn’t worth fighting for.'"

The article notes the huge amount of support the Campaign has secured:

"In Margate, Laister said, 'We know the people are behind us.' As are local businesses. 'A lot of the major organizations in town, the civic society, historical societies, the hotel and bed and breakfast operators support us.' Laister therefore is using the planning and land use process to press the campaign’s case that a reinvested amusement park would bring more dollars to Margate than would 'retail boxes and a supermarket.'"

Click here for the full article.

Please check the News page over the next couple of days for a major announcement about the Save Dreamland Convention.

Thursday, 13 March 2003

The Save Dreamland Campaign launches its new logo. Designed by local illustrator Paul Garland, the logo now features on the front page of the website. Over the coming weeks, it will be rolled out onto Save Dreamland letterheads and T-shirts. 

Monday, 10 March 2003

The Save Dreamland Campaign issues a response to the letter received on Saturday (see below) from Thanet District Council Leader Richard Nicholson. The letter expresses disappointment that the Council has completely changed its policy on Dreamland as a result of representations made by the owner, especially when those representations were made after the statutory consultation period on the Local Plan had closed. It also asks the council to provide the evidence on which they base their claims that an amusement park at the Dreamland site is no longer viable (which contradicts evidence already presented to the council by the Save Dreamland Campaign). The letter also corrects a number of misconceptions that the council appear to have about the aims of the Save Dreamland Campaign, in particular the Council's comparison of Dreamland with Thorpe Park and Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It concludes: 

"We have always compared Dreamland with similar-sized parks, in similar towns, with similar catchments. The evidence is that these parks are viable, and that (when properly run) attract significantly more visitors (by orders of magnitude) than Dreamland has under its present ownership. In almost all cases, these parks are the biggest attraction in their respective towns...We therefore do not accept your comments on the park’s viability; we consider that the Council’s views are not based on fact, are short sighted and could therefore be very damaging to Margate’s tourism economy."

The full letter can be viewed by clicking here.


Saturday, 8 March 2003

A reply was received today from the Leader of Thanet District Council, Richard Nicholson, in response to the letter from the Save Dreamland Campaign concerning 'last minute' changes to the Local Plan policy on Dreamland. The letter said:

"I fully understand that an organisation such as Save Dreamland Campaign would have concerns that the Council has reconsidered its policy stance. However, as you rightly point out, the Council is fully entitled to modify the policy as it has done.

"The change in stance in relation to the policy in respect of Dreamland did, in all honesty, come about following the representations by the owner of the site. However, it was not in respect of his representations that the policy was changed, but from an understanding of the realism of the situation. Your organisation may indeed be correct in suggesting that there may be another amusement park operator who would wish to take over the Dreamland site, but this to our view seems unlikely. (However, I should point out that the new policy stance would not preclude this happening; if one turned up.) As you rightly point out in your website, the current owner is only the latest in a line of amusement park owners who have tried and failed to make a going concern of the Dreamland Park. Whilst there may be aspirations to continue the site in amusement park use, the reality is that Margate does not have the catchment population of parks such as Thorpe Park have, nor does it have the visitor numbers such as at Blackpool, that provide for a viable amusement park on the scale of the existing Dreamland facility. Even with substantial new investment in a wider range of rides and an extensive marketing campaign, the Dreamland site must be considered marginal, even by the most enthusiastic supporter.

"Given the perceived lack of financial viability of Dreamland in the future, the Council took the difficult decision in terms of the policy of trying to make the best of a difficult situation. The long term interests of Margate will not be benefited by a poorly run Dreamland or worse still the site simply boarded up and left to rot. Given the precarious state of the Margate economy such a position would be totally unacceptable.

"The Council has, therefore, decided that rather than fight a rearguard action for the retention of Dreamland at all costs, a course which commercial reality tells us there is little prospect of achieving, it is better to make the best of the situation and to recognise that the redevelopment of Dreamland might actually be an opportunity for Margate rather than simply a disadvantage.

"That is not to say, however, that the Council would not wish to see some leisure activities retained on the site including, if it is possible, the scenic railway. However, realism dictates that a 16 acre site in the centre of Margate seafront presents an opportunity for a different set of land uses which can create a different future for Margate than the current situation of a rundown amusement park and a series of amusement arcades on the sea frontage.

"Hence, the Council's new policy stance which as far as I recall was adopted unanimously at the recent Council meeting which agreed the changes to the draft Local Plan. As you will no doubt be aware the revised deposit plan will go through a period of statutory public consultation which will commence at the end of this month. That will, of course, include consultation on the new policy stance and as part of that public consultation your organisation is, of course, entitled to make representations about the new policy and, if you so choose, to have those matters raised before the Inspector at the Public Inquiry which we are hopeful can be arranged at the end of this year."

Campaign Leader Nick Laister comments:

"I am very disappointed with this response. It seems to be based on a complete misunderstanding of the situation regarding the Dreamland site, and on tourism in Margate in general. Cllr Nicholson admits that the changes were made following representations made by the owner of Dreamland. That in itself is very disappointing because those representations were made after the closing of the statutory consultation period on the Local Plan. To the best of my knowledge, and that of other members of the Campaign, there is no evidence whatsoever that Dreamland is not viable. All that has happened is that its owner has decided to retire and secure the maximum redevelopment value from the site. Whilst I can fully understand the owner wanting to do that, that is in no way a good planning reason for abandoning Dreamland as a tourist attraction.

"The evidence that we have presented to the Council over the past few weeks has demonstrated that it is viable, and that established operators are willing to acquire it and invest in the site. 

"I am also very concerned that the Council appears to think that if Dreamland can't be Thorpe Park or Blackpool Pleasure Beach it shouldn't exist. We have always been very careful in our letters not to compare Dreamland to Thorpe Park or Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which are international leaders in the field. We have always compared it to similar sized parks, in similar towns, with similar catchments, which have seen their visitor numbers increase dramatically over the past few years. And to suggest in the letter that Dreamland is of a similar scale to those two parks is quite simply wrong. Dreamland is only a third the size of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and much less intensively developed.

"Our model for Dreamland is one that is successful up and down the country: a family amusement park, similar to Southend's Adventure Island, operated by a committed owner. We have seen the huge regenerative effects that these parks have had on seaside resorts of the the last 5 to 6 years. We have seen no evidence that Dreamland cannot have a similar regenerative effects on Margate. 

"Instead, the letter talks about the Council wishing to see "some leisure activities" retained on the site. This again misses the point completely. Dreamland is a tourist attraction, which brings in hundreds of thousands of people to the resort every year, and could bring in many, many more visitors if run properly. Leisure and retail development serves only the local population. Margate needs Dreamland, and our members feel that the Council is rushing ahead with a potentially very damaging policy which has no basis in fact. I am making a commitment to our members that this 'u-turn' will not go unchallenged. As well as objecting to the policy during the forthcoming Local Plan consultation, we will be writing to the Council immediately asking for evidence of this 'perceived lack of financial viability'. We will also be suggesting that Council representatives visit Southend and see for themselves how this well-run amusement park has, almost single-handedly, changed the fortunes of this town. The Council needs to realise that once the Dreamland site has been redeveloped, it is lost forever; we must not let that happen on the basis of ill-informed decisions for the sake of Margate's tourism economy."

Thursday, 6 March 2003

Today's Thanet Extra carried news of the Save Dreamland Campaign's 'Save Dreamland Convention' at the Theatre Royal on Easter Weekend with the headline: 'Roller-coaster fans of the world unite': "Hundreds of roller-coaster enthusiasts from around the world are expected to attend a public debate on the future of Dreamland Pleasure Park, Margate." The article carried quotes from the Campaign's Nick Laister and Sarah Vickery, plus Richard Foster, Chairman of the European Coaster Club.

Under the sub-heading 'We want what's best for the site', Councillor Iris Johnston, deputy leader of Thanet Council and cabinet member for tourism and leisure said: "I absolutely support this battle to keep a major tourist attraction in Margate. The Thanet Extra carried a front-page story about my concerns about the potential loss of this historic feature as long ago as October 25 2002."

The article also stated: "Thanet Council is to arrange a meeting between members of Save Dreamland Campaign and Stadium Group developers who plan to take over management of the site from former owner Jimmy Godden. Plans for the site include a shopping complex, supermarket and casino, although council leader Richard Nicholson has said he is adamant the project must retain leisure use. 'A run-of-the-mill shopping complex is not desirable at all. We want something which will be a reason for people to visit the area.'"

Wednesday, 5 March 2003

Local Campaign Coordinator Sarah Vickery attends an Open Meeting at the Fort Lodge Hotel, Cliftonville to hear the local Conservative Group's plans to form a charitable trust to raise money to move the Scenic Railway. She is joined by Campaign members and local residents.

The meeting commenced with Councillor Sandy Ezekiel asking anyone interested in being involved with helping to save the Scenic Railway to sign up to the trust. A few people did so.

Ezekiel then explained that he is in negotiations with Mr Godden, who has agreed to gift the Scenic Railway to the trust and allow them to run it this season. The trust would take the profits, but would pay £40,000 to cover staff, maintenance and insurance costs. Ezekiel stated that the Scenic would probably have to move, but that it may be possible to locate it somewhere within the current site. Other sites were being looked into, but the only option that could be revealed was the Rendezvous Car Park (behind the Droit House).

It was revealed that members of the Conservative Group are in favour of a family amusement park - but not on the Dreamland site. Current plans for the site include retail use and sporting facilities, such as five-a-side football pitches, a swimming pool, dry ski slope and indoor squash courts. This prompted a heated debate on whether these facilities would attract visitors to Margate, with those speaking from the floor all being of the view that they would not. It was also pointed out that Dreamland once housed an ice rink and squash courts, which both closed because of poor visitor numbers.

The issue of moving the Scenic Railway was then discussed, with the floor again agreeing that this was not desirable. Several people considered it virtually impossible for financial reasons.

Local campaigner Betty Renz pointed out that listed building consent would be required before the Scenic could be dismantled and much discussion followed on this point.

It was then suggested that the Save Dreamland Campaign join forces with the trust, an idea embraced by Cllr Ezekiel. Sarah Vickery responded by clarifying the campaign's aims and stating that any plans to move the Scenic Railway are most premature and that the Campaign would certainly not, at this stage, sign up to a trust that opened the door to the Dreamland site being cleared and redeveloped.

The general feeling as the meeting came to a close was that a trust was not appropriate or necessary at this stage, and Sandy Ezekiel conceded that, if support was not forthcoming, a trust would not be formed.

Local radio station TLR FM cover the meeting, reporting that "angry residents listened to the Conservative group's plans to form a trust but were disappointed to find that the meeting was not confident in stating that Dreamland would be saved".

Talking to TLR after the meeting, Sandy Ezekiel said: "Many people have joined and we are hoping to form the trust. I am in favour of a small family amusement park, but if we don't re-brand Margate, it will die. Mr Godden has tried re-branding Dreamland and it hasn't worked. We need a whole new concept for Dreamland."

Responding to the interview Sarah Vickery comments: "The Conservative group walked out of that meeting with seven names on a piece of paper; several of those people who signed up at the beginning of the meeting told me that, having heard all the facts, they were no longer interested in being involved with this trust. Sandy Ezekiel's comments make me wonder if we actually attended the same meeting: there was solid support here tonight for the Save Dreamland Campaign and its aims. People do not want to see the Scenic Railway dismantled."

Earlier that day, Local Campaign Coordinator Sarah Vickery was also interviewed live in the studio on the BBC Radio Kent Lunchtime Show speaking about progress with the Campaign.

Tuesday, 4 March 2003

Following the assertion from the local Conservative Group last week that the removal of the Scenic Railway would not require listed building consent because it is a 'moveable structure', Local Campaign Coordinator Sarah Vickery sought clarification from Thanet District Council. A letter is received today from Nick Dermott, Conservation Architect at Thanet District Council, in response to that letter, clarifying the issue of whether listed building consent would be needed to move the Scenic Railway:

"On 14th March 2002 Baroness Blackstore gave a Parliamentary answer to a question from Baroness Anelay of St John's as to whether it was permissible, under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, to list an historic ship. In this answer the Baroness stated: 

"'An historic ship can only be listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 if it can be demonstrated that the vessel has a longstanding permanent home. Moveable objects cannot be added to the list, and there are currently no plans to amend the 1990 Act to allow such objects to be listed.'

"From this I take it that only fixed objects can be listed and because the Department for Culture, Media and Sport listed the Scenic Railway on 1/03/02 they must regard it as a fixed object. In my opinion listed building consent would be required to demolish, or move, the Scenic Railway. However should any proposal be put to the Council the particular circumstances would need to be taken in account in arriving at any formal decision as to the need for listed building consent."

Monday, 3 March 2003

A letter is issued to Thanet District Council Leader Richard Nicholson requesting an explanation why the Local Plan policy, which allowed for only a small part of the Dreamland site to be redeveloped and provided protection for the Amusement Park, has suddenly been changed to allow for the site's complete redevelopment, despite the policy having been the subject of extensive consultation and having been ratified by the Working Party and Cabinet in December 2002. Regarding these changes, the letter states:

"These changes represent nothing short of a 'u-turn', and have no basis in the work undertaken over the past few months and can therefore only have been precipitated by the council's recent meetings with the owner of Dreamland and the developers. As I am sure will appreciate, our members feel betrayed by the council, particularly because the policy as it had emerge in recent months was put in place because the Council had seen little evidence of investment at the site, and therefore predicted a pressure for the site’s redevelopment. But it seems to our members that as soon as the site’s owner announced its closure to allow for redevelopment – the very thing the policy predicted – the council has thrown away all of this work and inserted a completely new policy that allows for the site’s complete redevelopment."

The letter concludes:

"Our members are now requesting to be consulted on this policy before it is finalised in the Second Deposit Draft Thanet Local Plan, and request that it is taken back to Cabinet following a consultation with ourselves and other organisations in the town... We don’t feel that such a substantial change to the plan should have been ‘rushed through’ like this without consultation with the people whose livelihoods depend on Dreamland, and the many thousands of other people who know that the Dreamland Amusement Park is vital to the future prosperity of the town. Our members feel completely betrayed by the Council, and we request that this matter is dealt with urgently."

The full letter can be viewed in PDF format by clicking here. When a response is received it will be posted on this site.

Saturday, 1 March 2003

Local Campaign Coordinator, Sarah Vickery, is interviewed by The Magic Eye on the Campaign's progress. In the interview, Sarah expresses her surprise at the strength of feeling in Margate about the future of Dreamland: 

"The Campaign has far exceeded my expectations, both in terms of the support it has gained and the work it has generated! It’s less than two months since Nick Laister started this Campaign and we already have 13,000 people behind us, which is an extraordinary testament to the strength of feeling out there concerning Dreamland and the Scenic Railway. I live and work in Margate and speak to local people everyday about this - people who are angry and upset at the potential loss of such an integral part of Margate’s heritage, and people who are worried about Margate’s future as a tourism destination. This Campaign has given all us worried little individuals one big voice and made us impossible to ignore.

Sarah also says that the Campaign's journey is far from over: "We will continue to fight our corner: lobbying the decision makers to ensure that our members’ voices are heard; challenging half-baked plans and misinformation; promoting the Campaign whenever and wherever possible; investigating all possible ways and means to retain Dreamland and the Scenic Railway and secure its future." Click here for the full interview.

Nick Laister is interviewed at his office in Oxfordshire by a documentary film crew who are making a film about the impending closure of Dreamland and the campaign to save it. The film makers will be following Nick Laister and Sarah Vickery over the coming months as they fight to save Dreamland and the Scenic Railway.

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