Labour councillors are urging a rethink on the inclusion of the authority-owned car park in the deal to sell the Dreamland freehold to operator Sands Heritage Ltd (SHL).
SHL currently holds a 99 year lease but the proposal would see the firm, under hedgefund Arrowgrass, buy the freehold.
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, one of the biggest asset disposals in Thanet council’s history, would also include the TDC restored cinema and Sunshine Café building, containing the ‘Dreamland Bars’, later famous for being the ‘Bali Hai’. The terms would include a restriction prohibiting housing development at the site for 10 years to tackle any possible planning application for development outside of leisure uses.
But Labour councillors say they have concerns over how the heritage assets at the park will be protected and that members do not believe it is in the best financial interests of the council to sell the income producing car park.
Cllr Rob Yates, Shadow Portfolio Holder for Financial Services & Estates. said: “The sale of the 1930s grade II listed Sunshine café and the listed Dreamland cinema building is of concern. These are heritage assets with no current lease obligations, and as the Guide for the Disposal of Surplus Land Cabinet Office report states “consideration should be given to whether any provisions and protections should be made during, and / or following the disposals process including long-term management and monitoring”. The Cabinet have agreed the sale process and we are watching carefully to see that these assets will be protected.
“The piggybacked sale of a revenue generating car park into this deal will not give TDC best value for money. This is a public amenity in the heart of Margate that brings tourists in and gives the council regular income. We, the people of Thanet, own this 400 space car park and the Conservative Cabinet are adding this into the deal with no guarantee of its future as a car park.
“We ask the Cabinet to ensure the heritage assets are fully protected and to rethink the sale of a profit-making car park when Dreamland already own one.”
A report by council officers says the car park sale will mean a loss of income and a possible loss of a public amenity but adds: “The loss of car park revenue will need to be replaced. A freehold disposal typically generates a one-off capital receipt, rather than recurrent annual income. However, the receipt can be used to repay debt, and so the annual cost of debt repayments will be eliminated – which will offset the loss of income.”
At a previous council meeting 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 added that splitting the park and associated buildings between different owners would bring complications and an entire package sale to one entity would be the preferred option.
At a meeting on September 2 Cabinet agreed to seek a second valuation following concerns from the council’s scrutiny committee but another recommendation to extend the ban on development from 10 years to 18 years – when the obligations for Heritage Lottery funding expires- was rejected, although Cllr Bayford added: “My proposal is that we leave it at this stage at 10 years but the people negotiating on behalf of the council can explore a longer period if that is appropriate in those negotiations.”
A report to Cabinet members which highlighted SHL plans, including establishing a new seafront hotel and conference facilities, said the sale 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.
A 21 day consultation is now underway into the sale of the freehold.
The consultation, which runs until September 25, has been launched due to prompting from Labour Group, says Cllr Yates.
He added: “The council’s asset disposal process stipulates that when Cabinet gives approval to proceed, a consultation process will commence for 21 days. We are happy to share that the Labour group has gently reminded the administration of this obligation and are happy to announce that a public consultation is now underway.”
Cllr Yates is urging people to submit views on the freehold sale by emailing Cllr-Rob.Yates@thanet.gov.uk no later than September 25. Emails will be forwarded to the council and any valid considerations will then be brought back to Cabinet.”