‘No residential development’ at Winter Gardens pledge as interest from operators revealed and promise of public meeting given

Closed off Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Interest in taking on Margate’s Winter Gardens has been expressed by at least three parties with further enquiries still coming in, a Thanet council meeting was told last night (September 22).

The information was revealed by Director of Regeneration Louise Askew in response to questions from Labour councillor Rob Yates.

The officer also confirmed that £300,000 allocated from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund to pay for an appraisal study of the venue will be received by the council by the end of this month and work would start “immediately.”

The information was given as councillors discussed the next steps for the future of the Grade II listed building which hosted its last performance on August 7 before the lease was returned by then-operator Your Leisure to Thanet council and the doors were shut to the public in readiness for the report.

A pledge was also made that the site will not be considered for any residential use, with council leader Ash Ashbee stating: “The intention is to find a stable investor/operator, whatever we can do, to bring this building back into action. There is no intention, certainly under this administration, for it to ever be anything remotely considered as residential so I hope we can lay that ghost to rest.”

During a somewhat fractious exchange between deputy council leader Reece Pugh and Labour’s Rob Yates it was also confirmed there will be a public meeting “when there is information to share.”

Cllr Yates and fellow Labour shadow Cabinet members have been calling for the public meeting to update residents on plans for the Winter Gardens. A petition launched by Cllr Yates requesting the meeting has gained more than 3,000 signatures.

Their call was backed by Green Party member Tricia Austin last night who said even if there was little to tell, councillors could “listen” to concerns.

Cllr Pugh restated that he would be ‘happy’ to hold a public meeting when there was information to share but also that his “door is always open” to answer questions from residents and councillors.

Comments by Cllr Bob Bayford raised a gasp from the public gallery, where residents and members of groups including Margate Operatic Society were seated, when he said: “It is a great pity, there’s a lot of interest in the Winter Gardens at the moment…perhaps if the local population had as much interest in the Winter Gardens over the years as there is now…..”

He added that demonstrations outside some Thanet assets had more protestors than there had ever been audience numbers inside.

Next steps agreed

Cabinet members agreed to the next steps of commissioning experts to complete a costed structural survey; commissioning a complete set of drawings for the site; identifying all legal requirements and commissioning a team of consultants to review the night-time economy in Margate and the Winter Gardens role in that.

Louise Askew said a timeline for the project would be published on Thanet council’s website in the coming weeks and she expected the night-time economy report to be completed “by the end of this year or early next year.”

Cllr Pugh said he had been involved in making information videos at the venue and these would also be released by Thanet council.

Councillors Yates, Duckworth, Keen and Scobie called for a public meeting

Following the meeting Cllr Yates said: “Labour has been calling for a public meeting on the Winter Gardens since May 2022 and over 3,000 residents signed our petition demanding a public meeting in order to see what the plan is for the venue.

“Last night we found out more information about the future of the venue that could have, and should have, been made public months ago. We found out that a timeline will be published on the TDC website in the next few weeks detailing what is due to happen next and when this will be done.

“We found out the £300k for the feasibility study is expected to be paid to TDC by the government before the end of September and this has to be spent by April 2023. We found out that there are around three operators who are actively interested in the venue. And we got a commitment for a public meeting from the council, but only when the council is ready. “All this is new information that the council needs to be communicating with the public openly, rather than in Cabinet meetings at 7pm on a Thursday night to opposition Labour Councillors.

“I am happy that we have finally managed to squeeze some information out, but more remains to be done to give the public confidence that this is being properly handled. One example of this is that during the Cabinet meeting a question was asked about the rumour that seats have been removed from Theatre Royal and given away.

“The Administration denied this, but I learnt after the meeting, that it is actually the Winter Gardens seats that are looking to be removed. They failed to mention this.

“Labour councillors will continue to fight for our treasured local assets and we welcome tonight’s climb down by the Conservatives into finally agreeing to hold a public meeting.”

Cllr Ashbee said everyone shared the passion for the Winter Gardens and its future, adding: “This does need a long-term, sustainable future and the only way we will get that is by serious investment.” She added that matters were ‘being explored.’

The 2,000 capacity Margate Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 111 years, with the last time it was closed during World War II.

38 Comments

  1. The secrecy, lack of consultation, dodgey dealing and disdain for residents and minority Cllr’s among TDC’s cabinet is shocking. Homer and her gang were removed for much the same behaviour so whete are we now – different bottles but same sauce!

    • Strange the Deal Board give Dreamland, privately owned company,a fortune and only £300,000 to the Winter Gardens to assess what is needed to bring it back to life. Interesting to see if those showing an interest are connected to those on the Deal Board. It seems Thanet will always be the same. Corupt.

  2. We’ll spend the 300k, might see some reports by middle of next year ( any bets on how much of the money goes to Lee Evans Partnership?). We can have all the “intentions” we want but such a word is worth less than the time it takes to say it and is easily cast aside “in light of new information”.
    Whatever happens having another pleasurama or dreamland fiasco with the endless time scales needs to be avoided at all cost.
    Personally i really don’t see there being the demand for two large leisure facilities and give the amount of time and money that has gone into dreamland , it will be the favoured site. However no one is going to put substantial sums into Dreamland whislt there’s the prospect of the wintergardens being a competitor.

    For the sake of actual progress there needs to action on the future of dreamland in tandem with that of wg, find someone willing to buy dreamland and fullfill it’s potential, then agree to sell of wg for redevelopment, if that means it goes , so be it , its time for some pragmatism, in the process seek contributions to save the theatre royal.
    Won’t be a popular opinion and i’d like to see the wg saved , but i just can’t see it and dreamland both having a secure future.
    Biggest hurdle to getting anything at all done will be endless politically based and biased infighting at TDC , with whoever isn’t in charge never being happy with whatever those who are suggest.
    Second bet, any guesses on how long it takes for the site to have a new use and being used? 10-15 years is mine.

  3. I feel that ‘fractious exchange’ is a very polite way of describing what I witnessed. The behaviour of Cllr Pugh was disgraceful. Belittling a fellow Cllr is hardly the way to get your point across.

    • I remember when I went to the 100th birthday dinner at the winter gardens it was a good night at the time Keith Simmons was king rat was told by your Leasure we don’t want your type of entertainment anymore like the operatic societies the hire prices kept going up they were the kind of shows that people wanted not comedians and rock groups they were the bed rock of the gardens for many years your Leasure are the culprits the programming should have been monitored by council officers civil servants locals always supported the gardens I am glad no development will happen under the current administration I don’t know about the other parties as it’s coming up to local elections next year local people stand up to those dfls who want posh housing.

  4. Cllr Ashbee said The Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 111 years. Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the last time it was maintained. Why don’t TDC start a maintenance programme for all their assets, like other coastal councils do? Buildings by the sea always suffer deterioration and need regular attention to keep them looking cared for.

    • TDC maintain NOTHING. That is their appalling legacy. Other councils manage it so why haven’t TDC over the years? It’s nothing short of scandalous. All of our iconic buildings are falling into disrepair and then TDC offer them up for sale when they’ll cost an absolute fortune to bring back to repair. This makes them prohibitive for local communities to buy them. TDC are disgraceful!

    • Think it’s to late for a maintenance program. Most buildings are passed maintenance and need serious money spending.

      Good maintenance prevents this

  5. What is Brayford talking about. There have been a lot of concerts and events on since lockdown eased and from my own attendance and discussing with others who went to events I missed, they were all pretty much maxed out. So at an average ticket price of say £30 x say 1500 that’s a lot of money coming in. Plus the beer festival, soul weekender, weddings, panto etc etc. The bar profit must cover the cost of the staff at each event so why is there nothing left. Do we give it all to the artist/promoters ??perhaps the tickets are too cheap?

  6. Most popular opinion seems to be pull the ghastly looking place down and build a modern sponsored venue. Lets move forward instead of living in the past

  7. Poor old Winter Gardens in Margate!! Maintained by idiots, run by idiots and now closed by bigger idiots. Such is life in Margate and TDC. Yes it does need a lot of work and tons of money and that is why not much will be done and it will get sold off in the end. Several parties interested is no information unless we know who they are. Our councillors are just as bad as 10 Downing Street where truth is scarce and getting any information is rare until it is too late. I always have loved the Winter Gardens but time is up I think.

  8. I think we should all expect to see some very tasteful residential developments on the site of the winter gardens in the next ten years.

    And why is it necessary to spend £300,000 on some pointless report surely we pay local councillors to do a job of work not forgetting the outrageous self-seeking council offices who have managed to pour away a million-pound on petty disputes arising from I guess their inflated egos.

    How difficult can it be, the winter gardens is a well-established entertainment facility which has operated for decades providing entertainment to local residents and visitors for many decades.

    Sorry if offices and and local politicians are so inept that they can’t think for themselves then why the hell don’t they just resign and get people in who can managed govern and think.

    How embarrassing is this for the local area that we are led by such people.

    All we need is for local councillors to come up with ideas, one to maintain the building and two continue running as the long standing amenity that it is. Then get the professionals (council officers) to do their job.

    • I see where you’re coming from ……. But isn’t that a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted ?
      The priority now has got to be the future and every effort is made to save this theatre
      We need transparency from local politicians and every one / anyone involved in this .
      Sorry to say that due to my cynicism after living here for too long ,that I sadly won’t hold my breath for that to happen .

      • Also, I don’t think Your Leisure should take all the blame. I worked there before they were responsible for it, and bits were falling off even then. Like so many other things in Thanet – toilets, lifts, theatres – these things haven’t received regularly maintanance in decades, and then they get to the stage where they’re beyond repair!

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