£4million Town Deal cash towards entertainment and conference centre plans for Dreamland Cinema

The listed Dreamland Cinema Image courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

A £4million allocation from the Margate Town Deal fund for Dreamland will be used towards the renovation and reopening the cinema building which has been empty for more than a decade.

The site will be turned into an entertainment and conference centre with space allocated to community use – understood to be the People Dem Collective group which headed up Black Lives Matter demos last year – and charities.

The allocation has caused controversy with some questioning why the privately owned business is receiving public funds. The Dreamland estate was sold by Thanet council to park operator Sands Heritage Ltd last year for £7million – £2.3 million for the Dreamland estate and £4.7million to buy the car park area which was finally handed over this month.

The estate was also the recipient of some £19.4 million public funding from the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s Sea Change programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thanet District council prior to its first reopening in 2015 and further funding towards work at the cinema building and Sunshine Cafe by now collapsed firm Coombs.

Dreamland Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty

Thanet council says the Dreamland project will bring people to Margate, attract further investment and boost both the local economy and employment.

Thanet council Cabinet member Rick Everitt said: “The restoration of the Grade II* listed building is hoped to improve the visual aspect of the seafront and to generate significant footfall into the town and attract further investment, both in turn benefiting the local economy.

“Reopening the cinema building will help support the provision of activities during the out of season and the winter season. A 365 visitor offer is important to the town as it will provide the ability to offer year round employment, in particular because Dreamland is an employer of young people.

“The specialist work required to transform Dreamland’s Grade II* listed cinema building will cost significantly more than the money awarded by the Margate Town Deal. Repurposing the cinema building without public seed funding is not viable, there is a heritage deficit due to its listed status and long term vacancy. This is the funding gap that the Margate Town Deal investment will fill, making it a far more attractive investment opportunity, acting as a catalyst for private investment.

“Having already invested £50 million into the estate, Dreamland is now focused on securing further significant funds to progress the next stage of their development plans.”

The Town Deal Fund asks for private sector investment to match fund the public investment and says Dreamland has shown ability to do this.

Dreamland Photo Frank Leppard

The park has been running at a loss with a £6.3 million deficit in 2018 and a recorded loss of £25.8million for 2019 although £21.8million of this is ‘write off’ for impairment and depreciation of assets – meaning a reduction in the value of holdings such as plant, property and equipment. This depreciation may correspond to a downward valuation of the estate which was recorded in Thanet council’s annual statement of accounts prior to the sale of the site. In this there was a £19.5m revaluation loss in respect of Dreamland due to its reclassification from a Heritage Asset to an Asset Held for Sale. Applying a “ market value” resulted in the significant reduction.

A £750,000 gain for disposal of ‘tangible’ assets is also recorded, again this is likely to mean equipment, plant and/or property.

Dreamland’s latest annual report says the park increased revenue after switching from pay to enter to free to enter, resulting in three times the number of visitors than achieved in the previous year. Revenues grew from £4.72m in 2018 to £5.71m in 2019, an increase of 21%.

The report also reveals proposals of ‘extensive redevelopment of undercover areas’ to reduce the impact of weather and encourage all-year use.

In early 2019 a new senior management team was put in place and  further investment was made “to increase dwell time and broaden consumer offering, particularly focused on driving the events business.”

The report adds: “The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in quarter 1, 2020, has had a detrimental impact across the leisure and hospitality sector throughout the 2020 financial year.

“The Dreamland park operation has been no exception and a decision was made early into the pandemic not to open the Park for the 2020 season. Alongside this, the management team have undertaken a full restructuring exercise to mitigate cost exposure, expected to deliver an improved year on year EBITDA performance, despite the main business not trading.

“A total of 52 positions have been made redundant since January 2020 with an associated redundancy cost of £53,000. These redundancies will deliver a full year equivalent employment cost saving of approximately £1.67m.”

In 2019 the park had an average of 220 site staff, 39 admin and 3 directors.

The report also notes the buy up of the Dreamland freehold in December 2020 and the hand over of the 400-space car park  from Thanet council this month, which is expected to “improve an additional high margin revenue stream for the business going forward. “

The car park is due to be reopened with Smart Parking Limited managing the operation.

The rates will match the Arlington Car Park prices, meaning the Dreamland Car Park will be cheaper than it was previously.

Smart Parking now operate both of Dreamland’s parking areas Photo Paul Lloyd Johnson

The buy out of the Dreamland estate was funded by the introduction of new equity in to the business.

The annual report states: “Since the 2019 year end, a further £8m of equity (£3.585m December 2020 and £4.415m in May 2021), has been introduced into the Company, all fully paid and issued to the 100% parent company, Margate Estates Limited.”

Margate Estates also has planning approval for a new seafront hotel. Previously, Dreamland CEO Eddie Kemsley, who is also a member of the Town Deal Board and chair of the Town Deal people’s panel, 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.

The planned seafront hotel

The immediate Dreamland parent company is Margate Estates Limited but the ultimate controlling party remains as Arrowgrass Master Fund Limited which announced a decision to shut down in 2019 after a slump in capital and requests from investors to withdraw funds. This came on the heels of a legal wrangle over the exit of a senior executive.

Arrowgrass made an investment of circa £25million prior to Dreamland’s reopening in May 2017, bringing operator Sands Heritage out of administration in October of that year. It has invested a similar sum since that date.

Further Arrowgrass investment, includes the purchase of flats in Arlington House, discussions to take on the freehold and purchasing properties surrounding the park in Marine Terrace and Belgrave Road.

The investment in Dreamland was also raised in legal papers to the New York Supreme Court. The case was lodged by former Arrowgrass investment fund manager Michael Edwards against the firm.

In papers Mr Edwards claimed Arrowgrass founder Nick Niell pushed the firm to invest in Dreamland, consuming substantial Arrowgrass capital, management time and resources, at the expense of the firm’s general and limited partners. Arrowgrass denied the claims.

Dreamland Summer Social

Dreamland reopens to the public with its Summer Social programme of food, drink and large screen sports on Thursday, May 27.

Eight park rides will be in use from July 10 but others, including the Scenic Railway, will not return until next year.

Joining established classics such as the Waltzer, Scrambler Twist and Gallopers will be a  new attraction — The Ghost Train. Originally built in the 1960s the ride has been lovingly restored.

The Toytown Carousel and Austin Cars will be ready for younger riders while all the family can enjoy The Rocking Tug and a new Giant Dodgem Track with 20 superfast cars.

Rides for this summer will be available on a pay-per-ride basis with prices starting from £2.

A full programme of gigs hosted at the park is also expected with many events already announced.

Find out more on the Dreamland website at https://www.dreamland.co.uk/


    • More than 95% of Thanet’s population is described as “White”; fewer than 2% as “Black”.
      I wonder if spending this huge amount of money to provide facilities for the “People Dem Collective” group is entirely proportionate?

    • Who have ‘people dem collective’ got high up in the local decision making thats extremely close to them? They aren’t liked round here, but yet being given all our funds. They already have primark. I’d rather see the building bulldozed than give it to them. They are cringeworthy type people that don’t mix with the locals in any community they go to. They are the least embedded people out there, but preach to the rest of us

      • Careful Tete, or you’ll get some racist/ageist/sexist abuse from them complaining about “white old men”.

      • Also along the seafront. As I’ve suggested before, move Dreamland to another spot (such as The Lido) and build a road right through it, then pedestrianise the seafront.

        • The advantage to Dreamland’s position is that it is close to the beach and train station. If you move it, are day trippers going to be bothered to walk a couple of miles to visit it ? I suspect this is why Cliftonville hasn’t benefited from Margate’s renaissance in recent years. It just isn’t close enough to cash in on visitor footfall.

          • The Lido is hardly “a couple of miles”. It’s almost around the corner from TC.

            I’m also not convinced by “Margate’s renaissance” – the High Street, Arlington Arcade, Nayland Rock Hotel (to name just 3) are in a far worse state today than 10-15 years ago.

          • In terms of distance I agree but can’t see any tourists going beyond the Turner, up Fort Hill into Cliftonville. It’s just not that accessible or convenient for most people to bother with.

          • Cliftonville desperately needs this kind of investment. Nobody will come to Cliftonville as there is nothing there for them to do.
            Dreamland is a leech like the Turner Centre. You can pump in as much money as you like but it will never be enough.
            Dreamland needs to make more room available on their cramped up fairground and offer rides that brings the public into town. They have the room there but it’s not used. They need the stalwart ride open, the Scenic Railway brings tourists in, when they see it closed again they won’t come back and spend elsewhere in town. Dreamland haemorrhages money as fast as they can receive funding to keep them afloat. Too many parent companies and shareholders to keep happy. They need to have started giving back something in return by now, but it’s all grabbing instead. Too many pies!
            With a director of Dreamland as Chair of the Margate Town Deal board it was forseen by the public that funding was going to be diverted towards their own projects ahead of the more deserving, and this is what has now happened with Dreamland helping themselves to another £4 million of public monies out of the pot which is in effect a down right scandal. Who are overseeing these boards members and the pot of public funds? How can they allow this? There are many much more deserving projects out there that never see the light of day in funding at all? This Town Deal board is supposed to be independent so there should be legal stipulations preventing any personal business benefitting from it! Corruption is rife in Thanet and it needs to be dealt with urgently. This is giving huge amounts of good money just to be washed down the drain!

            Oh, and employing Smart Parking was a big mistake. They are the biggest of the parking rip offs going in the UK. There is such a lot of bad feedback on this company everywhere you look. Drivers who happen to find themselves in one of the car parks managed by them can expect to receive threatening letters from the company about bailiffs being sent to your door for not paying when the machine is not working or you don’t have a smart phone, even when you decide to turn around and drive straight back out again because of badly sequenced time cameras. Huge charges of £170 if you don’t pay up and being hounded for over a year with even bigger threats. They let down the industry of parking management with their bad practises. About time national government banned these methods of unfair parking charges. Keep clear of that car park like everyone does with the Poundstretcher car park in Margate or you will find yourself being hounded by a bad management system. Companies who use Smart Parking to manage their car park find their businesses losing out because the public are not all stupid and will go elsewhere.

  1. Sinking £4m into a private company is one thing. Sinking £4m into a company which, looking at the figures in the article, looks completely doomed is another thing entirely.

  2. How can the person bidding for £4million chair the people’s panel which is meant to be an independent review from local people. This won’t bring more jobs to the town in the winter time as dreamland lay off their summer staff during the winter so losing with one had what you gain with the othe. It won’t bring more people to the town when the first thing you see is the old abandoned shopping arcade and all of the sea front businesses gone. Why is the money not being spent on bringing business alive in all of the empty retail space?

  3. “People Dem Collective group which headed up Black Lives Matter demos last year – and charities…”

    Margate is finished, if not already.

    • Yep, even with all the woke white folk who support it the reality is Margate is 95% white & most people generally have more important things to worry about than lectures on Afro hair, painting ‘Black Icons’ on walls how awful the slave trade was etc-like being able to eat, cleaner streets & more inclusive social events.

  4. Dreamland has already had tens and tens of millions of pounds effectively subsidising the offshore hedge fund behind this venture. Arrowgrass is an unaccountable offshore company involved in all manner of opaque financial transactions here in the UK and abroad. Some. of those directly or indirectly involved with the hedge fund have amassed considerable property portfolios and real estate in the town on the back of Dreamlands poor financial management and performance to date .Only TDC in their wisdom would sell off this public asset in a fire sale and then support them receiving a further 4 million pounds of public subsidy, when the vintage park is a mere shadow of its former self and now we learn the listed scenic railway will be mothballed for a further 12 months. I am sincerely hoping I am wrong but we all can see where all this is leading a few years down the road.
    In the meantime when can we expect all the graffiti to be removed from the cinema facade and measures taken to prevent its reoccurrence?

    • An excellent assessment Roman 1234.
      What is so depressing is that we could see what was going to happen and many warned as much.
      The future of Margate has been allowed to fall into the hands of an unrepresentative few who wield undue influence.

  5. Dreamland awarding itself 4 million as predicted. BLM getting a little office as well-what a shocker.

    • This is problem, the peoples panel which is supposed to feed into the ideas is chaired by Dreamland who have awarded themselves £4 million pounds (20% 0f all the money awarded to Margate). The Town Fund shortlist was presented to the board by Madeline Homer from TDC for sign off. Part Time TDC Regeneration Director Louise Askew used Towns Fund money to hire a Towns Fund Project Manager but is instead using this role for Ramsgate Projects while the current Project Manager working at TDC manages the Towns Funds Projects (very shifty) and a misuse of funds??? The Towns Funds was created for regeneration, employment and creative use of empty properties. None of the plans solve the problem of over 70% unoccupied shops, creation of new employment or actual regeneration.

  6. i wonder how much of that cash will trickle down to something concrete , it will soon vanish on ” consultants ” fees meetings and christ knows what else , i agree with the revious posts the place is finished , what would anyone want to come to this coast for ? unless they need to top up on drugs , or to see what its like to be mugged or attacked in the street , i expect the ” arty farty mob ” are rubbing their hands already.

    • Exactly what is happening with their new Biodiversity Officer DR Hannah Scott who is spending five figure sums on consultants.

      • Why waste 5 figure sums on consultants that just tell you what you already knew? They could use the funding directly and actually make a difference in the area, but No, that is too sensible.
        This is really all about enriching your colleagues and business pals, but no authority will stand up and take action! It seems that this is what is normal these days. Well, just watch what the government leaders are up to and there you have your answers!!

  7. Seems we don’t need brown envelopes any more when you can just award yourself free money through committee channels

  8. Arrowgrass and others mentioned all lead to TESCO not so friendly supermarket….. They are looking at buying the whole sea front. The whole deal is fraud, TDC fraud and the real sad part is now one cares enough to stand up and do the right thing

  9. The lost dreamland site the associated concrete part & boarded-up facades of margate seafront are available for the highest bidder, outside business interests avail.

    Those coastal concrete buildings have a life expiry date, many will say different but.

    Its a decent brown envelope site and developers have cash available to develop , just needs persons who understand cash filled brown envelopes !

    Dream on land has lost its appeal even before the Chinese virus crippled our beloved country, margate dream rides will be sold to the new leisure,theme park up near swanscombe ( the london resort)

  10. Changing from “heritage asset to asset for sale” means a 19.5million reduction in value to reflect a “market value” , rather suggests that the higher value was nothing more than a ploy to flatter the books and make it look as though the huge sums poured into the project were value for money.
    There is no way that the current owners have such a lacksadaisical approach to their financial affairs, am i the only one who finds no credibility in the claim that they’ve invested circa 50 million in Dreamland? Does this sum in reality represent the total amount spent in margate as a whole instead?
    With such sums being bandied about so casually , there has to be something afoot and it ain’t 12 inches. Now having control over a huge chunk of the seafront and if the suggestion that there are moves to purchase the freehold to Arlington House. (Again from TDC , who have made little efforts/progress in getting Freshwater to abide by the lease) the town will be in thrall to a manipulative offshore investment fund and our current idealistic left leaning leadership.
    What could possibly go wrong?
    Time to to await the next chapter in Thanets already fullsome volume of bad decisions.
    Though there could well be some comic relief from the Citizen Smith Tribute act.

  11. “A £4million allocation from the Margate Town Deal fund for Dreamland will be used towards the renovation and reopening the cinema building”. “With a director of Dreamland as Chair of the Margate Town Deal board it was forseen by the public that funding was going to be diverted towards their own projects ahead of the more deserving, and this is what has now happened with Dreamland helping themselves to another £4 million of public monies out of the pot which is in effect a down right scandal”. – You really couldn’t make it up unbelievable

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