Thanet council will be carrying out an assessment of the Newgate Gap sea shelter after concerns were raised about its dilapidated state.
In 2018 the structure had been earmarked for demolition but Thanet council reversed that decision following a Save the Newgate Gap Shelter campaign.
The shelter was then subject to a building control notice and in October 2019 the roof and seating were removed. The same month it was listed for asset disposal by Thanet council.
In 2019 Stretch arts charity, which delivers arts projects to marginalised groups, was the successful bidder for a community asset transfer of the site by Thanet council.
The charity revealed plans to create the first national museum for ‘outsider art.’
Stretch was one of four groups to put in an expression of interest for the shelter and the charity’s founder Carlotta Allum said proposals were for a sensitive rebuild costing approximately £500,000 and an outsider arts trail, workshops and exhibitions.
Thanet council granted permission for a temporary ‘floating’ wooden art box inside the shelter in June 2021. The ‘art box’ was planned to be in place for up to two years.
The box was installed by December 2021 and the first exhibition of portrait photos of Thanet based artists/residents was put in place in February 2022. This was vandalised almost immediately.
The same month Broadstairs College students made planters and trellises for the site. A further exhibition by artist Catherine Chinatree was put on the box in June 2022.
But the remnants of these displays are now covered in graffiti and there are concerns about the cast iron column bases being in planters with wet soil, causing damage to the structure with rust and a general air of neglect.
A letter to Thanet council on behalf of some residents says: “(There are) extremely serious concerns over the ongoing neglect and inevitable deteriorating state of the Newgate Gap Sea Shelter, of which the asset transfer holders appear remorselessly oblivious.
“This significant coastal architectural heritage asset needs to be protected from yet further neglect, so it doesn’t quite literally rust into oblivion… so it can be resurrected as a viable community and heritage asset, by an organisation that’s actually in a legitimate position to deliver.”
The letter says action must be taken before the Edwardian shelter is lost forever.
Isle architect Sam Causer had previously called for the shelter to be listed. He said: “It’s understandable that local authorities are keen to lease out responsibility for the maintenance and management of our shared public space and heritage, to ensure they’re used, looked after and meaningful in contemporary society, especially since their budgets are slashed to the bone by central government.
“However, the terms of these leases, and the care taken at Planning and Building Control should be more careful to ensure leaseholders don’t inadvertently cause harm to the structures and places we’ve entrusted them to care for. Looking after a publicly-accessible structure, especially in a harsh coastal environment is tough, and should not be undertaken without the right team in place to make sure the venture is a success for decades to come. It’s complicated, expensive and takes determination and passion to properly care for the public realm.”
Matt Shoul, of Athelstan Road Tenants & Residents Association, said “It must surely be time for TDC to reassess the situation afresh and rescind the asset transfer and either apply for a major grant for a complete historic restoration or be passed to an organisation with real forward looking vision, energy and the financial clout to create a 21st century shelter for the next century of Margate to enjoy,
“It is so very sad to see what’s become of what ought to be a stunning and valued community asset – it has such incredible potential.”
Cliftonville West ward councillors have contacted Stretch for an update on future plans for the shelter and Thanet council to see if there are conditions or requirements as part of the asset transfer.
Carlotta Alum, of Stretch, says efforts have been hampered by bad weather but work to tidy up will start “in the next couple of weeks.” She added: “We have a few plans afoot but the weather has been debilitating. We have two exhibitors lined up.”
She said a schedule will be put together shortly.
In a post to social media Stretch added: “On the 22nd Feb we will be painting over the box and getting ready for the next installation.
“It’s been incredibly hard to do anything and please anyone, the winter was hard, artists couldn’t do anything. The vandals are out in force whenever we try, it is disheartening.
“Stretch is going to try this year to gain some traction in fundraising but if it doesn’t work we will return the asset transfer – so it will be up for grabs again, and I wish you luck with your plans – obviously we had plans for something more robust, a kiosk and display space – but while we fundraise all we can afford is the box.”
A Thanet council spokesperson said an assessment will be carried out and Stretch will be contacted f repairs are deemed necessary.
They added: “We are aware of concerns relating to the condition of the Newgate Gap sea shelter, and officers are in contact with Stretch regarding the upkeep of the structure.
“Our priority is to ensure that the shelter is maintained and that all agreements made during the lease agreement are being adhered to.
“We will be conducting an assessment of the shelter and, if necessary, requiring Stretch to carry out repairs.”