Council to carry out ‘full review’ of Northdown Park, including Northdown House and Secret Jungle

Northdown House Photo Frank Leppard


Thanet council plans to carry out a review of Northdown Park, including the facilities and buildings within it.

The authority says until the review is complete there will be no decisions made about renewing leases at Northdown House or the Secret Jungle play area.

There are unconfirmed reports that tenants of Northdown House have been given notice to quit and will need to leave in three months’ time.

Thanet council owns the entire site. Your Leisure holds the lease for Northdown House although the company is now based at Discovery Park and has issued notice that it is terminating that lease.

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “Northdown House in Margate is owned by Thanet District Council. The building is leased entirely to Your Leisure. Your Leisure acts as landlord and is responsible for the tenants’ leases.

“There are currently no plans to sell Northdown House.”

In an updated (July 18) statement a council spokesperson added: ““The buildings and facilities at Northdown Park are due to be reviewed. This review will  explore and identify ideas for the future use of the park’s buildings. It will involve an assessment of the existing structures to determine their condition and identify any necessary repairs.

“We’ll decide what improvements need to be made when we’re clearer about how the site will be used in the future. Responsibility for the renovations will be based on the types of leases we offer.”

Attempts to sell Northdown House, in the 1970s and in 2008, were thwarted following public campaigning and recognition that covenants on the site would make the sale unprofitable.

Photo Frank Leppard

In 2008 Northdown House and environs were among a number of council properties earmarked for sale but the following year then-council leader Sandy Ezekiel admitted that legal advice revealed that due to restrictive covenants on the site the cost of compensation would outweigh the expected £2million sale price.

This followed a 1,800 signature petition against the sale as part of a campaign led by William Friend, grandson of benefactor Cpt. J Irvine H Friend of East Northdown Farm who donated the site to Margate Borough Council with the stipulation that it always remained in public leisure use.

The park is also home to the Coach House – the lease for which expired in 2021 – The Garden Gate Project, the Secret Jungle, Dell Gardens and Frank Mathews Memorial Garden.

The Secret Jungle was an inclusive play and activity area

The Secret Jungle has been shut to the public since July 2018.

The all-inclusive play area designed to allow disabled and able-bodied children to play alongside each other closed when Your Leisure announced it would no longer be responsible for the site.

Manor House Nursery was announced as the new operator from September 2018.

Several groups made enquiries about taking the play area over, including Tamara Rattigan of The Little Art Cart community interest company, who questioned why there had not been a public tender process.

Secret Jungle now

The nursey originally took on the play area saying it would be made available for community use but it was not reopened due to a spate of vandalism at the park. The prolonged closure prompted questions over public access from former interested parties and families who had previously used the play area.

Manor House Nursery handed the site back to Thanet council in 2021 blaming the ongoing vandalism.

At that time Thanet council said work to clear and make repairs would begin followed by exploration of future options for the site to ensure it remained a community space.

Secret Jungle now

The Secret Jungle play area had originally been funded by The Children’s Society and then the Big Lottery but cash ran out, spelling the end of special family events.

The Big Lottery grant of £350,000 was made in 2010 and ran until the end of 2016. The funds not only paid for maintenance but also activities for children of all abilities, such as an after-school nature club, and events for the community.

The area remains shut, overgrown and in a state of neglect, much to the frustration of Tamara Rattigan who has continually tried to secure agreement to take the site on.

Tamara says that in April this year the council verbally offered her company a seven year lease with an officer saying it would be drawn up.

This was then reversed several weeks later with the officer saying there had been other enquiries so the council would need to ask for expressions of interest.

This week Tamara contacted the council again to find the officer has left their role and a decision to review the park and its facilities meant the council no longer planned to market or lease the Secret Jungle ‘in the immediate future” and any lease discussion had only been “discussions in principle…(with) no legally binding obligations.”

Tamara said: “It is hugely disappointing and somewhat frustrating that this community space, which my company has offered to take on and reopen to the general public at absolutely no cost whatsoever to Thanet District Council, still lays abandoned, overgrown and closed!

Secret Jungle now

“My company originally put forward an expression of interest for the site in July 2018, when it was subsequently given to a local nursery school who kept the site closed. This site was gifted to our town for the use and benefit of the community as set out in the 1937 covenants. This covenant will be breached if the community are unable to access and enjoy the site and my company’s proposal of use for this site will ensure that it remains open and accessible to our community.

“Everyone asks why I want to take on the stress of it but I remember just how beautiful it once was and my grandma loved taking us there. To me it’s like a little oasis and I’m determined to see it brought back to life and have it as a community space again.”

Photo Frank Leppard

A Thanet council spokesperson said: “We plan to conduct a full review of the whole of Northdown Park. This review will look at existing leases and uses for the various facilities and buildings within the park.

Northdown Park play area Photo Frank Leppard

“Until the review is complete, no decisions will be made about marketing or renewing current leases at Northdown House or the Secret Jungle.”

Questions raised over public access to The Secret Jungle play area in Northdown Park

The Secret Jungle play area at Northdown Park has been returned to Thanet council control

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  1. Thanet Council do like a review don’t they. I wonder how much this one is going to cost the tax payer? 🤔

    • It could be a great venue , it needs a creative direction, the history and beauty can be captured ,without lowering its tone . With so many pieces of land being used to build even more houses . This local attraction should be sensitively preserved for future generations

  2. An absolute scandal surely, yet another leisure asset, the secret jungle used to be a pleasant oasis when it was a walled garden.

    Just look at the other leisure assets on the area, the winter gardens gone, the theatre royal gone. There ought to be a public enquiry into the mishandling of these properties.

    The collective responsibility appears to be firmly on the shoulders of senior council officers more interested with internal squabbles, governed by feeble councillors.

  3. It will be like the review of public toilets Labour promised years ago. This one might see the light of day in 2030.

  4. Why hasn’t the Coach House been included? Can we take it for granted that it is an integral part of the main Northdown House?

    • Good point. I did ask about the Coach House as that lease has expired but there was no inclusion in the response. I will add a bit in

      • Because the council are too weak to take the coach house back from the expired leaseholder, which the lease has been broken since it began.

  5. I remember back in 1980’s that the council was going to do something with the park, but it turned out that Northdown park was bequeathed to the people of Margate, and the ancestors of the person who bequeathed it was traced, and objected to the park being used for any other purposes that leisure for the community. Has this now changed ??

    • There was a bit somewhere about a proposed disposal much more recently that was shelved as a result of the it was bequeathed to the council, iirc there was a figure of around 2 million that would need to be paid in recompense and that was reckoned to be more than it would have sold for.
      It wouldn’t be a surprise if the building/ grounds is another victim of the commercial property department fiasco, being listed the building will cost a fortune to being back to a decent condition, it might be a prime property for a free transfer to the arts trust people on the basis the use a chunk of their 6 million to save it.
      It’s hard to believe that TDC has any interest in doing anything meaningful with the place.

  6. Just another waste of money as a review will not tell them anything they do not know already. Almost as bad as the many Ramsgate Harbour reviews.

  7. TDC ,hates ,all forms of property,like this .If they could get rid of the Winter Gardens,Theatre Royal,and the beaches ,and any other buildings and land ,they would,just to get rid of the upkeep costs,Doesn’t matter which party runs the area,they are ,all the same ,under their colours,only in it for them selves

        • TDC like most other district councils don’t have enough money to do everything that needs doing. “Hatred” doesn’t come into it.

          • No it’s squandering huge amounts on paying off staff, settling legal disputes using non disclosure agreements, a dysfunctional commercial property department, the cost of the animal export fiasco, ramsgate harbour loading berth costs, enthusiastic adoption of wfh and its attendant drop in productivity, dispute over excess payments to the gas and plumbing contractor of around a million ( was that eventually recovered) , leg well and truly lifted in reect of pleasurama, are the ones that spring to mind i’m sure others can come up with more examples. Certainly won’t have helped it’s finacial position.

          • TDC is most definitely not “like most other district councils”. The “we haven’t got any money” line really doesn’t wash when you consider it has paid around £1m to its toxic ex-management team because successive leaders didn’t get a grip on the situation. It makes me want to weep when I think of the good this cash could have done for the local area. That’s without even mentioning Transeuropa, etc.

            The fact it is broke is entirely of its own making.

          • And now there are calls from councillors and other worthies for tdc to act asap to remove flytipping in ramsgate.

          • Alright i will change it to dislikes,if you read last ,bits ,you will ,I stated,to get rid of these buildings because of upkeep costs,don’t just pick out one word

  8. Under Your Leisure has the fabric of the building been maintained or will this end up the same as the Winter Gardens. Left to decay until they TDC find a company that is prepared to invest, maintain and run as a going concern. This is the public and the Friend Family concern I suspect.

    The price quoted of £2m will have increased as time has progressed since the original requirement.

  9. Neglect. Postpone any decision. Start a review. Hire a consultant (to do the job you’ve already been paid for.) Notice the property has declined further (during the period of neglect.) Call for another review. Hire a consultant. Repeat ad infinitum.

  10. what a waste this park ands the house has over rhe years played a big part in my upbringing, not least the years I spent in Northdown House When it was Headquarters of the 438 Thanet Squadron Air Training Corps. This was gifted by the Friend family and I believe we have a duty to keep it.

  11. Just a question why can’t anyone comment on the site about fly tipping at the port there doesn’t seem to have a page for that one

    • Of course we’re not , there would be comments about the where the tipping emanated from and the likelyhood of it being by others, there’d then be calls of “you can’t prove it” and utter disbelief about the calls for the waste to be removed immediately on health grounds to those living near by. You’d hope the council has cctv close by, but no doubt the council will do nothing but spend a fortune getting it cleared especially expensive if there are grounds to believe there is asbestos present.
      You couldn’t make it up.

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