Margate Town Deal Board is recruiting for a new chairperson.
The role was originally held by Graham Razey, of the East Kent College Group, but he stepped down in March to concentrate on the Margate Digital project; a specialist industry-focused centre positioned in Margate High Street. The project is subject to a £6.3million funding bid to government.
The position was taken by David Smith on an interim basis but recruitment for the role is now open again.
Margate is set to receive up to £22.2million of funding from the Government’s Town Deal programme.
The funding was awarded after Thanet District Council – working with a dedicated Town Deal Board– submitted its Town Investment Plan to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in December 2020 for a bid of £25 million.
In March this year it was announced that up to £22.2million had been agreed for Margate. Detailed business cases for selected projects in the Town Investment Plan (TIP) are being worked on.
Those projects include renovation of Dreamland Cinema; working with Work Wild Ltd to establish a new Creative Land Trust w; investing in the Theatre Royal and a major project at Walpole Bay, which will secure long term affordable space for creative industries; investing in the Theatre Royal and a major access scheme at Walpole Bay.
The funding will be spent over a five-year period, steered by the Margate Town Deal Board. The overall programme is managed by Thanet District Council as the lead accountable body.
The chairperson role is voluntary and the aim is to lead the Board and keep an overview of activities.
The role is for a minimum one year period with meetings every two months.
The project also has a People’s Panel made up of 65 members. Thanet council deputy leader Reece says there has been a significant increase in young people on the Panel (under 30s) as well as better representation from members of the community from ethnic minority groups.
The Panel’s role is to help the Board understand public opinions and put forward their ideas to ensure the Town Investment Plan Board decisions reflect Margate.
However, earlier this month resident Peter Blem was expelled from the panel after asking questions about the £4million Town Deal funding allocation for Dreamland.
Mr Blem says he questioned whether the amusement park would still be eligible for £4 million after it emerged that Dreamland’s parent company Margate Estates has marketed an offer for acquisition of the entire estate assets, including the Dreamland car park purchased from TDC, parcels of land surrounding the site inclusive of the plot secured for a new 124-bed hotel, and the option to purchase Arlington House, multi-storey and land.
Mr Blem said during the most recent People’s Panel meeting he was nominated by a group to ask about the Dreamland allocation.
Following the meeting Mr Blem received an email to say he had been removed from the panel for ‘disruptive’ behaviour because he “put a question across that was not relevant to the session being hosted and prevented other views from being heard.”
He refutes any allegation of breaching the rules and is waiting to be supplied with links to the meeting recordings from Margate Town Deal, so he and others can review his behaviour on the Panel.
County Councillor Barry Lewis has now raised questions about the allocation, stating that as Dreamland chief exec Eddie Kemsley is also chair of the People’s Panel, he believes there is a conflict of interest.
Cllr Lewis said: “Dreamland was (allocated) 20% of the funding for ‘levelling up’ Margate. Dreamland is a private company, up for sale, and even though legally the chief executive of Dreamland can be on the town deal board I would say it it a clear conflict of pecuniary interest.
“When the question about the £4million to Dreamland was asked by a member of the public, that person was expelled from the panel, so as well as having a pecuniary interest she appear to have shut down debate on the issue.
“This is why I have stepped in to support that member of the public who appears to have been victimised for asking a legitimate question. I am now publicly expressing the opinion of many of my constituents when I say the Dreamland CEO should have no place in this process.”
In response a Thanet council spokesperson said: “Providing any conflicts of interest are declared and managed in a transparent way, then there is no reason why projects put forward by organisations linked with board members cannot be taken forward.
“Other Town Deals across England have awarded funds to projects supported by board members. For example, Blackpool & Fylde College is part of the Blackpool Town Deal Board and will receive funding as a result of their Town Investment Plan. NewRiver Retail Ltd also sits on the Bournemouth Town Deal Board, and is one of the major land owners of the area that will benefit from the Town Deal masterplan project.
“The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, in their guidance and requirements for setting up the Town Deal Board, included the need for private sector representatives, land owners and investors. Eddie (pictured above) has many years’ experience of working in both public and private sector organisations and her interests have been declared in an open and transparent way. We value Eddie’s commitment, experience and contribution to the Margate Town Deal Board.”
The allocation for Dreamland is to 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.
But the funding 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.
In June this year the real estate and leisure company which owns Dreamland was put on the market and is being offered for ‘acquisition’ through property specialists Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL).
It means the entire Dreamland estate, including the Dreamland car park purchased from TDC, parcels of land surrounding the site inclusive of the plot secured for a new 124-bed hotel, and the option to purchase Arlington House, multi-storey and land, is being offered as assets for investment.
An update on the town deal project from Cllr Pugh says: “Since the final project list was submitted to the Government on 8 June 2021, the project team has begun working with project sponsors and delivery partners on preliminary business case work and carrying out early due diligence.
“The Board will be utilising external expertise for technical aspects of the business cases where needed which is currently advertised on the council’s procurement portal.
“It’s a busy and exciting time.”