The freehold for Dreamland could be sold by Thanet council to park lessee and operator Sands Heritage Ltd.
The council has owned Dreamland since September 2013 following a successful Compulsory Purchase Order against Margate Town Centre Regeneration -later renamed DreamlandLive- which had proposed an amusement park with up to 500 homes at the site.
The CPO was served in June 2011 but a lengthy court battle followed when the then-land owners lodged an appeal which was dismissed by the High Court in May 2013.
The park initially reopened, with Sands Heritage at the helm, in 2015 following an £18 million restoration with funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thanet District Council.
But it went into administration in May 2016 after SHL suffered financial difficulty at the end of 2015 and entered a voluntary debt plan. The company had been hit with a net loss of £5 million and owed bills of £2,893,128.
In May 2016 Benjamin Wiles and Paul Williams, Managing Directors of Duff & Phelps, were appointed Joint Administrators of Sands Heritage Ltd, trading as Dreamland.
In 2017 a £25 million investment from company Arrowgrass, which bought up the shares of the operating firm, was used for re-landscaping, vintage rides restoration and the introduction of contemporary street food, eclectic bars, and a main stage.
The cash was secured by placing legal charges on SHL’s 99 year lease of the Dreamland site, and by placing charges on other, non-TDC, properties leased by SHL.
The properties include land at 43-47 Marine Terrace; land at 45-55 Eaton Road: Cinque Ports pub; Ziggy’s; fish and chip shop at 48 Marine Terrace and land at Dreamland amusement centre.
A £600,000 pot paid creditors of Sands Heritage around 25p for every £1 owed to clear the debt from 2015.
All Sands Heritage Ltd directors – Nick Conington, Christopher Rudgard, Robert O’Connor and John Adams – resigned their posts. New directors Steven and Jennifer Double were put in place.
This duo have since resigned with current directors including returning CEO Eddie Kemsley.
The new-look park reopened on May 26, 2017, and attracted some 500,000 visitors over the Summer.
In October 2017 SHL were able to exit administration. Margate Estates acquired Sands Heritage Ltd (SHL) in 2017, and SHL continues to operate Dreamland. Margate Estates is the sole shareholder of SHL.
The council is now reviewing ownership of the entire complex in the hope that private ownership will unlock the continued regeneration of other iconic parts of the site.
With the park’s continued success and expanding live music events a report on the freehold sale will be considered by Cabinet at a meeting on Thursday, August 1.
Thanet council leader Bob Bayford said: “The council took the bold decision to acquire the site after it fell into significant disrepair and neglect, and following a widespread community campaign. This intervention was necessary to secure the future of Dreamland at that time.
“Selling the freehold is a natural next step to secure a successful, long term future and to realise the potential for the entire site. Options are more limited under council ownership and could mean that iconic parts of Dreamland might otherwise remain vacant and unused for many years to come. Private ownership would unlock a significant amount of additional investment and see the wider site continue to be reimagined under the expert direction of SHL.”
Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley said: “We have invested more than £50 million into Margate and Dreamland, including refurbishing the traditional rides and introducing new ones, re-landscaping the park and putting in place a talented management team. We have put Dreamland on the map as an entertainment, corporate and wedding destination, and we have brought the event spaces back to life.
“We are invested in Margate and its community, have established relationships with multiple partners and, most of all, we want to see the Dreamland estate reach its full potential and to safeguard its future.
“Our long-term vision for Dreamland has always been about transforming it into a year-round destination, offering a vibrant mix of leisure facilities. This can only happen if we bring back into use the iconic buildings on the estate – including the cinema and bingo hall – that are currently lying vacant. It is also why plans for a new seafront hotel have been brought forward.
“Unifying the ownership and operation of the park was always the plan and this will enable us to continue to invest in this fantastic asset and safeguard its future. It will contribute to the ongoing cultural regeneration of Margate and further enhance the town’s offer, creating more jobs and opportunities for local people.”
Bernie Morgan, Chair of the Dreamland Trust, said: “The Trust has worked closely with both Thanet District Council and Sands Heritage Limited to ensure that, if this proposal is accepted, we will continue our work with SHL into the future. In this way, the uniqueness of Dreamland – its heritage – is protected and grown in tandem with this new chapter of the Dreamland story.”
Conditions are to be attached to any sale of the site to ensure the listed heritage structures are protected and to restrict future use of the site to leisure – in line with current planning policy.
The council says it has sought external legal advice regarding the process and will appoint independent valuers to ensure the proceeds raised from any sale provide best value for the council tax payer.
Support will be required from grant funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Thanet council is in discussion with these organisations.
Dreamland has also been working closely with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to ensure the park’s Listed and historic features can be sensitively restored and protected for the benefit of future generations.
Compensation is yet to be paid to DreamlandLive following the previous CPO of the site, with negotiations said to be ‘ongoing.’