“All options” for lease, agreement or sale of Margate Winter Gardens to be “kept open”

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

All options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for Margate Winter Gardens are being kept open as Thanet council moves to appoint a marketing agency to scope out interest for the site.

At a Cabinet members meeting last night (March 16) the proposal to take the first steps to appoint a specialist to launch a marketing campaign was agreed.

In response to comments from Councillor Ruth Duckworth about the possibility of operators using Arts Council funding and a plea from Cllr Helen Whitehead that a full repairing lease agreement would be given priority over sale of the Grade II listed building, Cllr Reece Pugh said: “At this stage it is important that we don’t try to restrict any possible operators that want to come to the Winter Gardens.

“Special consideration will be given to any suitable bids that come forward in relation to how they may potentially want to change the character of the building.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Cllr Pugh added that Lord Parkinson, Under Secretary of State for Arts and Heritage, has visited the Winter Gardens last Friday, saying he “really appreciated the unique character of the building.

Director of Regeneration Louis Askew said links have been made with the Arts Council in terms of the Winter Gardens project and grants could unlock further funding but it would depend on the type of organisation making the bid.

Director of Place Bob Porter added: “At this stage we want to keep those options as open as we can to see what kind of organisations come forward and bring proposals. We might be surprised; we might see some really exciting proposals come forward that we hadn’t anticipated.”

Closed off Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Cllr Whitehead said the rising energy and building supply costs, plus an estimated £6m which a report to councillors says will be needed over a 10 year span for repair, refurbishment and improvement costs, made the project “challenging” for external operators.

She said this shouldn’t mean losing overall control of the property adding: “I am aware that a sale would seem easier than a lease in terms of investment but I also believe  it is important to remember this is arguably our most significant community asset and that our rights to determine usage and guarantee maintenance disappear the moment the building is sold.”

Council leader Ash Ashbee said the report was clear it was potential operators or buyers and sale or lease/agreement, saying it was not automatically going to be sold but “every option is going to be visited” with no preference at this point.

Cllr Pugh highlighted the recent sale of the Granville Theatre in Ramsgate as a benefit of selling council sites and seeing them refurbished and brought back into use and added all options should be looked at for ensuring the future of the Winter Gardens.

£6m cost

A report to councillors says an immediate cost of £2.5m is needed for structural , building and mechanical and electrical works with a further £3.5m estimated over the next 10 years and total costs estimated at £6.25m.

The detailed marketing pack will be aimed at securing an organisation to refurbish, improve, maintain and operate the venue for uses that could include a concert hall, theatre, event spaces or leisure and tourism uses.

The council has also commissioned an evening and night time review of Margate and Thanet  by a specialist team from Counterculture to help inform decisions about the future role of the Winter Gardens. Councillors were told this work is taking place but will overrun its estimated completion date which would have been the end of this month. It is now anticipated the report will be ready “in the Spring.”

Margate Winter Gardens

The Grade II listed building hosted its last performance on August 7 last year during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

Some £300,000 has been allocated from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for the appraisal work.

The council has so far spent or committed £97,635 of the £300,000 funding, completing survey work and estimates that a further £90,000 will be required for marketing activity, leaving £112,000 for further legal costs and any other requirements

Currently, the site is boarded up with security measures including screening and fencing in place on and around the building.

Estimated timeline

March 2023

Finalise the Evening and Night Time Economy Strategy – this is now scheduled for later in the Spring.

Engage the marketing agency – draft and approve marketing materials

Update Cabinet on the marketing materials and the Evening and Night Time Economy and Strategy

Launch marketing activity to identify a commercial partner/operator

 April 2023

Host open days in the Winter Gardens for prospective commercial partners and/or operators

Finalise prospective commercial partners and/or operators questions and the due diligence process

 May 2023

Review proposals for the Winter Gardens, complete due diligence processes

June 2023

Provide recommendations to Cabinet

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  1. My opinion is that selling the Winter Gardens should not be considered. It is one of Thanet’s most important leisure resources and needs to be protected not “privatised”. It was built with public money and should remain a community asset.

    • Could not agree with you more, this should ne kept for use by the local community, needs investment and lots of TLC to create a great place to visit and offer entertainment for locals and visitors to the area.
      Lots of talent out there that can be tapped into.

  2. It is good to see that if it is potentially leased out it is be be a fully repairing lease.

    One would hope that the council will request a security deposit of at least one years rent returned without interest

    That the building should be kept continually up to regulations including fixtures and fittings, with the boiler being serviced annually

    That should the leaseholder decide to sell or hand back the lease they will be responsible for the rent until a new leaseholder is approved.

    That the building must be decorated every 7 years both internally and externally.-

    One would also hope that TDC would not use this security deposit for other purposes

    It is the residents of Thanet asset and should not be sold off to the highest bidder.

    • How would ypu propose the repairing lease would work?

      TDC get the building into good shape and the lessee then keeps it in that condition? Will take years and cost money TDC doesn’t have.

      Lease it as it is and lessee does as TDC has and does the bate minimum to keep it open?

      It’s easy for councillors to spout worthy words , but what do they really mean and how is that meaning to be implemented?

      Look at how much was spent rcently on the Turner centre and that was just upgrades to a relatively new building. KCC spending a million to upgrade lighting in the chestfield tunnel. Can anyone see that rewiring the Wintergardens would come in under 2 million? Any guesses onnthe cost of just decorating the place top to bottom? New carpets and flooring through out? Heating system? And all that’s s before the structural and cosmetic repairs. Then add on the running costs for 10 years. The best thing the council can do is give the people that have given the 6.25 million figure the money and hold them to it. It’d be the best deal TDC had ever made.

  3. This building will be sold and turned in to expensive apartments for the rich DFL’s, therefore giving TDC revenue from the site, TDC take the public for mugs as usual.

  4. With the rising cost of materials and labour cost. By the time you get your act together your need 10m plus

  5. It has been suggested to the Margate Town Deal Board that they ‘hold their fire’. Clearly the WG is a prime regenerative asset not only for ‘culture’ but also for ‘exhibition venue’ (especially in the ‘staycation’ environment. After all, we do have a premium model maker on the doorstep (to say nothing of one of the best Beer Festivals in the country). This is a Dormant Asset and that fund is about to be effectively topped up by the Crown Estate and HM’s offer of excess rental income for the ‘wider public good’. All those environmentally beneficial wind farms equal many millions of rental income from seabed rights. So DO NOT PANIC !
    The Levelling Up Fund and its ilk have been criticised for ‘penny packets’ (as well as ‘pork barrelling) and the Local Trust (for only one) has submitted that in order to make a difference the ‘Left Behinds’ (and Margate is at the head of the q south of the Wash) should get ‘transformational’ injections – so, as I see it, the WG (and a potential TRoyal complex) must figure highly for effective funding. Whereas I see the £x millions on Dreamland rather squandered as it is little incentive for a potential purchaser for the whole of that site (£50+ millions entertained – not much heard of that.) If we energise the WG, the TRoyal (and, dare I say it, the High Street with ‘creative enterprise’- what exactly is East Kent College actually doing with the old M&S – as some say it looks like another ‘white elephant’ ?) we might in due course make these confidence building measures excite private investment following public/community initiatives. And make a goer of e g the Nayland Rock ? Roll on an ‘upgrade’ in regeneration thinking hereabouts !

    • Hello Geoff (from Oz), Yes, I am reminded that it is almost impossible to get a return on investment in these instances. Commercial income on a venue like this will never cover a repairing lease and running costs – I wonder what the cost of building insurance and third party liability would be? WG is something that creates intangible benefits for the community and is, in a way, no different from restoring a ruined castle – where entrance fees dont even cover the cost of employing someone to collect them…but everyone who visits is in awe of the thing and goes home happier after eating an ice-cream! The Lido, the Tudor House, the WG…they all need private benefactors of significant means who can use them as tax breaks or whatever. Kicking the can down the road and spending millions on surveys, investigations into nightlife, marketing (do property owners pay up-front to sell their houses – I always thought ‘no sale, no fee’, free appraisals given, etc). Ok, I’m a dinosaur…but seriously…

  6. All Hail Philip !
    Indeed, there ought to be scope for public/private partnership at least for the WG if not for the TRoyal. One of these days there will be a ‘bedroom tax’ to compemsate for the mushrooming AirBnBs driving up our homelessness (despite the inordinate numbers of long term empties yet to be addressed by our representatives.) M<y faith for long term investment rts in the forthcoming Community Wealth Fund (based on Dormant Assets – unclaimed monies over 15 years olod held by financial institutions) + the Crown Estate's transfer of a billion+ from its seabed rental income 'for the wider public good'. There's a move afoot to go direct to 'grassroots' given the unfortunate sobriquet of 'Screwing Up' ascribed to 'Levelling Up'.
    The argument is for a more focused application, in depth, of this largesse on places that can really 'make a difference' (which would probably exclude impoverished Richmond, N Yorks and Newark, Notts – as random examples !)
    'Whilst I breathe I hope' as a previous King Charles said around 28 January 1649 !

  7. Sell it to someone and allow them to pull it down and build a modern venue and some flatsto finance it. For gods sake thanet stop living in the past

  8. The poor building will be left to rot until it’s uneconomical to do anything else with it…..moth balled forever then vandalised. just like the Lido … another terrible wasted opportunity

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