Councillors at a meeting tonight (August 15) to examine the decision to sell the freehold of Dreamland to operator Sands Heritage Limited (SHL) have put forward recommendations to extend the 10 year restriction on housing development at the site to 18 years and for the council to get three-rather than the current one- valuations.
Suggestions that the sale is postponed until Thanet council’s outgoing head of asset management is replaced and to add a clause that the authority would get a percentage of any housing development sales were rejected.
A further proposal that the council car park be withdrawn from the freehold sale was also rejected.
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– 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.
Sands Heritage Ltd currently holds a 99 year lease but the proposal would see the firm, under hedgefund Arrowgrass, buy the freehold.
Three members of the public spoke, all with concerns about the 10 year development restriction on the amusement park site.
One resident said Thanet council should “work with the people of Thanet to take back control of our seafront” while another questioned why Sands Heritage was not paying a market rent that would provide income and reminded the council that the site was compulsory purchased to stop the previous owner building homes. A third resident said Thanet council should either keep the freehold or pass it to a charitable trust.
The 10 year restriction was also a concern to councillors with Cllr Steve Albon questioning why it was included at all when the land has a leisure use restriction in the draft Local Plan -a blueprint for Thanet housing and infrastructure until 2031- and Cllr Lynda Piper suggesting 25 years would be more acceptable.
Council leader Bob Bayford said: “The emerging Local Plan does keep (Dreamland) as an amusement park. We are seeking additional strengthening of that.”
However, he acknowledged concerns had been raised, adding: “We will review the whole thing and take a balanced view as to which way we think will be best given negotiations with the purchaser.”
In answer to TDC keeping the freehold he said: “I do not think an amusement park would have a future in council hands.”
Cllr Bayford said the sale could not be made without the agreement of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was one of the organisations providing grants to reopen the park in 2015, and that would mean the protection of heritage assets. He also revealed that talks for the sale have been taking place over the last 10 months.
The park initially reopened, with Sands Heritage at the helm, in 2015 following £19.4 million funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thanet District Council.
Hedge fund Arrowgrass, which bought all the shares in SHL after it went into administration, has since 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.
Scrutiny committee chairman Peter Campbell said the deal offered “potential inward investment in Thanet” and if the right safeguards were included in the sale it should be welcomed.
Councillor Rob Yates put forward both successful recommendations which will now be considered by Cabinet members next month.