Plans for a café, restaurant and flats at the Western Undercliff have been ditched by the developer in a row with Thanet council over further financial contributions.
Tim Burt, who is a partner in Western Undercliff Ltd, says negotiations with the council’s estates department have broken down over a demand for ‘excessive’ payment to allow an overhang on the new building which would go over council owned pathway.
There are also issues over the site being served by private sewers belonging to TDC and permission to connect the new build to them being denied.
An offer of £20,000 has been made for the over sail, which is a ledge similar to that on the Beach Retreat building in Marina Esplanade, but has been rejected with Thanet council asking for an unspecified but ‘significantly higher’ figure which the authority says should reflect the market value.
But Mr Burt said: “We are applying for consent to ‘over-sail’ the footpath while maintaining access – this footpath has no value as it cannot be sold and we are not blocking any future development by doing so.
“As for our value – as of today the value is marginal again – who would buy it given the constraints of the sewers, access and having to work with an intransigent TDC estates department?”
The development was granted approval at the end of last year but a separate application is now needed for the overhang.
The plan was to demolish the derelict café and toilets at the Western Undercliff and replace it with a five storey building with ground floor cafe and outdoor seating, ground floor public toilets, eight apartments and a fourth floor restaurant.
The application followed the purchase of the site at auction in 2018. It was sold by Thanet council for £100,000.
The plans, drawn up by MBW architects, are for a building with “a stepping form” to allow for all apartments to have terraces or balconies as well as a top floor viewing terrace available for restaurant guests.
The “ship” shaped build would have green copper on the front elevation and light coloured stone at the base and rear.
Mr Burt says in total an offer of around £75,000 of funding across the scheme has been rejected by Thanet council.
He added: “This is not to mention the loss of future amenity, construction jobs, employment, housing and council taxes and that the site will remain undeveloped in its current condition.”
Planning permission remains valid for three years.
Mr Burt said: “We purchased the site at auction and have gone through the planning process. We have involved the local community and included amenities. Local groups have been onboard and happy with the final scheme. The development isn’t particularly profitable, it is very marginal.
“We always recognised the pavement belongs to Thanet council but were led to believe consent would be relatively automatic. We have offered to relandscape, raising the pavement levels and sorting the drainage out, where it floods in return for the overhang but they want money, so we made a good offer which initially received no response or acknowledgement.
“We then had a video conference which deteriorated very quickly, it was all about how much more money they wanted although they will not name a figure.
“I feel as though the council is trying to hold us to ransom. We have now confirmed we will not be proceeding so this is entirely down to their change of will if it is to move forward.”
Ward councillor Becky Wing says it will mean the loss of promised amenities to undercliff beach-goers if the situation can’t be resolved.
She said: “As a regular sea swimmer and beach lover I often used the old cafe and its public toilets and when we lost it, it was a massive blow to the community.
“A subsequent failed community attempt to buy the cafe, despite raising £70,000 by the Western Undercliff and Ramsgate Community, was testament to the strength of feeling at its loss.
“Disappointed but determined the Western Undercliff group approached the developer who had purchased the now derelict site and began negotiations to try keep the cafe and public toilets as a feature in the new plans.
“The developer was extremely receptive and despite not being local ‘got and understood the feel of the place’. I was therefore over the moon to see the plans approved, they represent a ‘sea change’ for our beach which is well used and has seen an increase during lockdown as many people and families have reconnected with their environment.
“This beach is one of the safest to swim from and there is now a large group of winter dippers many of them women which is another fabulous positive. Our community has been left for too long without facilities on this beach and now we have a developer that is prepared to add them to their plans, you might say this is a ‘win,win’ situation for all. The developer had hoped to start work by this February, to the joy thousands of locals.
“With a cafe, public toilets, bike park, residential units and a clifftop restaurant to eat and enjoy the views and our stunning sunsets, what is not to like?
“Disappointingly we are now faced with a situation where the developer has become so frustrated with TDC that they are seriously considering pulling out. I understand the issues are to do with access to drainage and a part of the building that overhangs a TDC footpath.
“The developer was asked for and has offered what seems to me to be a generous financial sum, given the small footprint of the site. This offer has now been rejected by TDC and it seems clear that financial profit is always placed before social profit.”
Cllr Wing says she has now written to the council leader Rick Everitt in the hope he can intervene and prevent the loss of the scheme on a site that has been derelict for more than six years.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that the developers feel they are being ‘blocked’. We have had discussions with them on a normal commercial basis regarding a possible Deed of Easement, but have not been able to agree terms with them as yet.”
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt has outlined details surrounding the sewer and overhang issue.
In response to a query from a resident, he said: “The council has a legal obligation to get “best value” for residents in commercial transactions. The negotiation of a fee for an overhang of council land is normal practice and would be negotiated by the council’s estates team with the developer. The amount agreed is then valued independently by a firm of chartered surveyors to ensure the council has achieved best market value for its assets. It is not a matter elected members can decide or should involve themselves in.
“This process is in train and it is not appropriate to comment on figures. Nevertheless the actual sum seems unlikely to be material to the viability of the scheme in the context of the development of eight flats, a cafe and a restaurant. It should be noted that the value of the land is likely to have been increased by the granting of planning consent and therefore if the developer does not wish to proceed he may have the option to sell his interest on.
“A number of people have commented on what the council or councillors on the planning committee should have done in respect of the application. The application did not go to committee, it was decided by officers under delegated powers, which is the situation with most planning applications.
“The planning report prepared by the planning department, which is a public document available on the council website, reports consultation responses drawing attention to the sewerage issues, including the need to secure Thanet District Council consent for discharge of groundwater into its foul sewer. This discussion is not part of the planning process but the need for it is flagged. I would expect the developer or his agent to have investigated this issue.
“I do understand that residents are anxious, on the basis of what they have read or heard, that the development may not proceed. As leader, I am satisfied that the council is following a proper process to safeguard the interests of residents and doing so in a timely way, given that consent was only granted on November 30.
“I want to see the development proceed. However, the council cannot engage in commercial negotiation through the media or correspondence with third parties, and I am satisfied from my conversations with officers that they are acting properly and using their best efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion.”