Feather boas, glitter, giant dancing teddies, Cruella De Vil and a host of show songs including Sweet Caroline featured in a protest outside Thanet council’s offices tonight (July 14).
Some 200 people attended the gathering organised by Thanet resident Jack Packman in support of a Thanet Labour Party petition asking for a public meeting to explain the current situation, and future, of Margate Winter Gardens which is due to shut for an unspecified period of time from August 14.
It is planned to use £300,000 from the £22million Margate Town Deal fund to create a fully developed plan for the site.
This would include a detailed project delivery plan with public and private sector engagement. Specialist services would be needed to help test the market and identify the opportunities available. Specialist architects would also be used to scope out the required works and develop a fully costed scheme.
The feasibility study will not get underway until the closure takes effect. However no date has been set for this.
Initially operator Your Leisure was to retain the lease which ran until 2024 but agreement was then made for an early surrender.
The petition was raised by Margate Central ward councillors Helen Whitehead and Rob Yates, together with fellow members of Labour’s shadow cabinet, asking for a public meeting for TDC cabinet members and officers to explain what is happening, why and share more details with the public.
During the meeting Cllr Yates said the money allocated to Thanet council for the study has not been received, the procurement process to hire a consultant has not begun but the authority has already started arranging for the venue to be boarded up next month.
He said: “The administration might say that no decision has been made on the venue’s future. Our response is simple, a decision has been made and that is to board it up.
“This Labour group is not naïve, we know the costs associated with bringing the building up to scratch are huge, with estimates between £5m – £8m. But by failing to advertise the venue to potential investors, by failing to promote the venue, by failing to engage with specialist commercial estate agents, we are missing out on opportunities with potential operators and owners who might come in tomorrow and suggest a way forward.
“You can go online tonight, you won’t find a single document advertising the building to a potential new operator or owner.”
The petition highlights that Margate Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 110 years, with the last time it was closed during World War II. The 2,000-capacity venue supports local jobs and has entertained hundreds of thousands over the years.
Cllr Yates said: “As Thanet battles to revive tourism and recover from Covid, the imminent boarding up of Winter Gardens is a total disaster for residents. The venue brings in high quality shows and performers, supports local schools and theatre groups, and hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent with local businesses each year because of the venue.
“Residents deserve to know what the plan is for the building, why it isn’t being advertised to potential owners/operators and how long they are expected to wait until a potential feasibility study begins. This is poor management of a hugely valuable asset and the public deserve to know what is happening next to one of the jewels of Thanet’s crown.”
Thanet council’s Cabinet said now is not the tight time for a public meeting and the future proposals for Margate Winter Gardens are under review.
Protest organiser Jack Packman said some 200 people turned out in “one of the best demonstrations” he had ever been to.
Those backing the demonstration included Olby’s, Margate Operatic Society, Thanet Virtual High Street, Silvers, Off The Hook productions, Ralph ‘Mr Ramsgate’ Hoult and business owner/photographer Frank Leppard.
Jack added: “We need to know now what their potential plans are and what they are looking to do with it. We have had over a year to sort this out so that excuse doesn’t wash with me.”
He thanked supporters and said the push for the meeting would continue, adding: “We have to save this building.”
The petition will go to Cabinet members for discussion.
Cllr Ash Ashbee, Leader of Thanet District Council, said: “The Winter Gardens will return to council management in August at which point we will be in a position to discuss our next actions. The first step in the process will be to instruct an in-depth appraisal, where experts will look at the best, most sustainable options.
“We fully recognise the level of public support that there is in the district, and beyond, for the Winter Gardens, and we are committed to including significant amounts of public engagement as part of the appraisal.
“I can assure residents that we will do everything we can to build a long-term and viable future for this well-loved local venue.”