By Local Democracy Reporter Jordan Ifield
Margate’s historic town hall is to be let under new proposals from a council.
The old town hall was built in 1897 and was originally used as a police station and Magistrates court.
Four cells and offices for the police were installed at ground level. The Town Hall has been used by Margate Charter Trustees and the Mayor of Margate since 1974.
The Old Town Hall has been closed for several years due to health and safety concerns.
The Grade II listed building in Market Place has fallen into disrepair and is in need of significant renovation.
Thanet district council, which owns the building, had put the hall on a disposal list in 2018 but this proposal stalled. In early Spring of 2020 marketing with advertising and approaches for support through English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, Association of Independent Museums and other independent museum trusts was due to take place. However the covid pandemic hit with national restrictions coming into force in March 2020.
It currently costs the council £13,500 a year to run the Victorian hall in utilities, maintenance and insurance.
Debating plans to let the building Cllr Heather Keen (Lab) said the future of the old town hall was an “important decision for Margate”.
She said: “The building’s an integral part of the town’s history and I’m pleased action is being considered to address the deterioration of this heritage building.
“It is a shame no proposals from the community were considered to meet the required standard, but I am pleased the plan is for Thanet council to keep control of the building and lease it out.
“However this is a Grade II listed building and I’m concerned a commercial development will need to substantially alter the interior to make it suitable for their purposes.
“Finally we’ve learned from the experience of Dreamland that a long lease can in effect mean it is as good as sold, I hope this is given consideration when the lease is drawn up.”
Announcing the plans Cllr Reece Pugh (Cons) said it was about getting the building back “up to standard” and that any concerns over the length of the lease would be considered.
He said: “I think it’s important to say the council did explore options for the building in 2018.
“It’s important we move on this asset, rather than have buildings like this continue to deteriorate and not be used.
“The town hall will be an opportunity to create a revenue stream for the council while still retaining the building.
“There may be significant renovation costs but we can at least try what ambition there is for a commercial lease and if not we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
When asked by Cllr Ruth Duckworth (Lab) where the savings would be going Cllr Pugh said he hadn’t decided what it would be spent on but said he was exploring options. However, it is understood that the money would e ringfenced for repair and maintenance of other council properties.
Council leader Ash Ashbee (Cons) also said it’s hoped the building will raise as much as £65,000 a year for the council.
She said: “There are sometimes when it makes commercial sense for the council to go seeking for sizeable rent.
“It’s a magnificent building and we want it restored back into its magnificent self but we also need to earn some revenue out of it.
“It is sad it’s sat there for so long, decaying and not earning any revenue, councils really do need to maximise their revenue on their assets.”
In February proposals to create a People’s Museum at the site were put forward. A community team, led by Jack Packman, said they would be making a formal expression of interest in acquiring the Old Town Hall, with the People’s Museum sitting alongside Margate Museum.
However, the council meeting was told that a commercial lease would be sought for the property to maximise revenue.