Labour, Green and Thanet Independent councillors on Thanet District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee are calling in the council’s decision to sell the freehold of Dreamland to operator Sands Heritage Limited (SHL).
On August 1, Thanet council Cabinet members approved in principle the sale of the freehold for the entire Dreamland site -including the council car park and cinema building – subject to agreement from external funders regarding the removal of ongoing grant obligations upon the council, and subject to legal advice.
The sale will include the full complex, rides and the TDC restored cinema and Sunshine Café building, containing the ‘Dreamland Bars’, later famous for being the ‘Bali Hai’. It will include a restriction prohibiting housing development at the site for 10 years to tackle any possible planning application for development outside of leisure uses.
SHL currently holds a 99-year-lease.
The move to call in the decision – which means a request has been made for it to be re-examined – will prevent it from being implemented until the cross-party scrutiny committee has looked closely at what is proposed.
Opposition members to Thanet’s Conservative group, which leads a minority council administration, are concerned the proposed deal needs more public scrutiny to ensure Dreamland’s future is safeguarded following the use of significant public funding to bring it back into operation.
Shadow Cabinet Member for Financial Services & Estates, Rob Yates said: “This decision is being taken at speed. We need time to review the legal advice, to check the council will get best value for money, and to ensure that the heritage of the theme park will be kept intact.
“We fear that a rushed decision will not be in the best interest of the residents of Thanet and therefore ask that this decision is reviewed by scrutiny so that cross-party recommendations can be put to cabinet.
“We need to make sure this is not a Del Boy deal.”
The authority says a sale will remove authority costs for estate management, maintenance and repairs – and significantly reduce staffing resource dedicated to Dreamland.
A report to Cabinet members also highlighted SHL plans, including establishing a new seafront hotel and conference facilities, saying this would boost chances of the park continuing to thrive.
In April Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley told The Isle of Thanet News that the aim was to look at ways to increase the number of hotel beds in Margate and to hold more events out of the main season, creating a 12 month business and the permanent employment associated with that.
Hedge fund Arrowgrass bought SHL and has invested some £25million in re-landscaping, vintage rides restoration and the introduction of contemporary street food, eclectic bars, and a main stage since 2017.
The firm, which owns the Dreamland operating firm via holding company, Margate Estates Ltd, also has an option to purchase Arlington House.