A bid by Ramsgate charity Kent Film Foundation to take on the Granville Cinema building in Ramsgate has been unsuccessful.
The foundation had hoped to create a new centre with workshop space, cinema, theatre, a bee-friendly roof terrace, the town’s first organic restaurant – and a new name.
The foundation, led by director Jan Dunn, had been in active pursuit of the building since registering interest in it as a Community Asset Transfer in spring 2017 after losing their bid for the old Ice House.
The foundation’s plans included workshop space to continue with youth film clubs and to create a new youth theatre and youth orchestra in partnership with Pie Factory music.
There would also have been two cinema screens and new theatre space with a view to bringing West End theatre to the town through a residency for Les Enfants Terribles company.
The plans for construction of the building were for a “Green Build” design, with a bee-friendly roof terrace opened up to the public and a small cinema kiosk/café.
An open letter in support of the proposal was signed by actors Brenda Blethyn and Pauline McLynn; producer Julie Forsythe; musicians Lunatraktors and a host of local residents including Ramsgate mayor Raushan Ara, Oasis Domestic Abuse Service CEO Deb Cartwright and Zoe and Peter Hammond from Inspiration Creative.
In October Thanet council invited expressions of interest from eligible community groups to become the new owners of Ramsgate’s Granville Theatre.
The council owns the freehold of the Granville but the site has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
The property is an Asset of Community Value, which means any disposal of the building must be carried out in accordance with rules set out in the Localism Act 2011.
But the submission from Kent Film Foundation, understood to have been the only first stage bid, has been rejected and the site will be put on the open market.
A Thanet District Council spokesperson said: “We issued a Notice of Intention to Dispose of an Asset of Community Value for the Granville Theatre, Victoria Parade, Ramsgate, on 20 October 2021, as well as an invitation to submit a request for a Community Asset Transfer (CAT).
“We have now completed the Community Asset Transfer evaluation process of the business plan proposal and evidence submitted by the Kent Film Foundation and have confirmed that their current offer was not successful.
“Further offers can be made under the Community Right to Bid until the expiration of the full moratorium period on Wednesday 20 April 2022. We will now commence marketing the premises on the open market and any offers received will be assessed at the end of the moratorium period.
“We would like to thank the Kent Film Foundation for expressing their interest in the site and for submitting their application.”
Kent Film Foundation members say they were informed with an ‘abrupt email’ that their submission had failed.
Trustees, and the management team who have worked tirelessly to prepare an outline plan that takes into account requirements, aims and objectives of Ramsgate’s strategic town plan and future plans, say they are surprised at the conclusions drawn by the council and await a response to their query as to how the criteria was assessed.
A statement from the foundation says: “With a team that includes those who have successfully run cinemas, raised high stake funding and with filmmaker Jan Dunn at the helm whose own films according the Kent County Council generated over £500,000 each into the local Thanet economy it beggars belief as to how such a decision could have been reached. The Foundation has built not only local support but garnered an open letter signed by professional local creatives as well as Oscar winning professionals from the world of film and high-end theatre and music too.”
Jan Dunn said the outcome is confusing, adding: “We, along with a representative from the Ramsgate Festival of Sound were the only attendees at a public online awareness event outlining what the council were looking for in the new custodians of the building where our many questions were answered for clarity prior to submitting our proposal. We understand that at the first deadline at least, we were the only applicants.
“The result is very confusing considering we catered to the expectations of what was expressed to us by the estate’s department (and more) at that meeting.”
Ramsgate singer Sabina Desir, who was among those backing the bid, said: “This is a building of huge value both to the community and future generations. If we want homegrown talent to succeed, we need to provide a resource that keeps Ramsgate’s talent and creativity in Ramsgate.
“The Sandcastle project has the potential to do that and so much more! As a resident and creative practitioner, it would be fantastic to be able to present new work in the community instead of going to Canterbury venues and taking the income our work generates out of the area.”
Disappointment has also been expressed by Andre Dack of Ramsgate Music Hall. He said: “We deplore this appalling decision made by TDC. Unfortunately, it comes as no real surprise. The council continues to show a complete lack of regard and respect towards the arts, and the multiple communities within the sector.
“This building has enormous value, and Kent Film Foundation has put together plans that involve the enormous amount of talent in Ramsgate. For a number of years, we at RMH have been on the lookout for an appropriate space to put on bigger capacity shows in our beloved town. The short-sightedness shown by TDC once again prolongs our search.”
Emlyn Gregory, Chair of the Kent Film Foundation, added: “ My feeling throughout the whole process was TDC was going through their legal obligations reluctantly, I felt the whole time they had an agenda and were looking at bids with their minds already made up, it’s felt like obstacles and delays were the order of the day.
“The sadness is the people of Ramsgate have had a golden opportunity to enhance the area effectively lost, I think it will add to the local feeling that Ramsgate is the poor relation to Margate in terms of investment.”
Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine said she was surprised at the rejection, adding: “I am both saddened and surprised that this application has been rejected by TDC as I think it represents a wonderful and timely idea, backed by a sound business plan with a highly motivated and competent team already in place to take the concept to reality. TDC have been very short-sighted.
“It is also slap in the teeth for this inspirational and dedicated team who have over several years, put so much effort into the project, bringing many years of expertise and experience to bear, for the benefit of the community. Ramsgate desperately needs facilities like this, we all miss our local cinema. Now it would seem we have no chance of having one.
“Thanet District Council have also missed a trick with regard to the creation of a locally owned business that would have done much to boost our local economy, by keeping important community assets owned by Ramsgate residents, creating jobs and improving our tourism offer.”
Cllr Constantine said proposals to put the site on the open market would mean denying residents much needed cultural and leisure facilities.
Central Harbour ward councillor Becky Wing is urging Thanet’s council leader to look again at the decision to reject the Kent Film Foundation proposal.
She said: “This is an extremely disappointing decision and I am hoping there will be a full review of the decision and process, in light of the Government Policy Statement on Assets of Community Value, which the Granville is.
“I have been aware of the activities of Kent Film Foundation (KFF) and its work with young people since 2015 when they were operating out of their Cliff Street base and supported their previous plans for the Ice House, which had included restoration of Jacob’s Ladder. “These plans attracted an initial development grant and KFF were encouraged to apply for further funding as the project plans progressed and funders recognised the high community value. To have a further attempt to progress well evidenced plans in partnership with a number of other important and well-established organisation must be devasting for KFF.
“I also believe the plans presented and supported by many would have created the much needed cultural, community, educational, training, event and theatrical centre our town; Ramsgate presently lacks. I despair that another Ramsgate asset will now be sold to the highest bidder, with little regard or concern for the needs of Ramsgate, its residents and especially its young people.
“The selling of assets to the highest bidder has so far left us with a derelict Western Undercliff site and old Motor Museum none of which now benefit our community. In fact, they blight our communities. It is frustrating because government policy states the ultimate aim of Community Asset Transfer is community empowerment – that is, to ensure that land and buildings are retained or transformed then operated for public benefit through community asset ownership and management.
“It further adds that once assets are put up for sale, a six-week window of opportunity is triggered, during which any local community group may express an interest to purchase the asset. If they do express an interest, a further four and a half months window of opportunity is given so that the group may have time to find funding and put together a bid to purchase the asset on the open market.
“I also believe given the community benefit a local government asset can be sold at well below market value, as I believe happened with the Ice House. I therefore urge all decision makers and the Leader of the Council Ash Ashbee to have another serious look at the potential benefits KFF proposals would offer not just Ramsgate but Thanet.”