Council withdraws £500k town deal grant for The Oval Bandstand and Lawns project

Lots of work has been carried out at The Oval site but Grass has now had the grant withdrawn (Photo via The Oval Bandstand FB page)


The £500,000 grant allocated to a refurbishment project of The Oval Bandstand and Lawns  under the £22.2million Margate Town Deal scheme has been withdrawn by Thanet council.

Grass (Gordon Road Area Street Scheme) Cliftonville was allocated £500,000 from the town deal in 2021 but, despite carrying out major works, the group was still waiting for £475,000 of the grant to be released.

Thanet council said it could not release the funds because Grass had not signed a grant agreement due to a disagreement about the terms.

The delay resulted in project leaders Stephen Darrer and Simon Bell saying they would find funding elsewhere and Stephen resigning his role on the Margate Town Deal Board, which was set up to oversee the scheme.

Simon Bell and Stephen Darrer with plans for The Oval Bandstand at an exhibition in 2022

The Oval Bandstand proposal was to build a Pavilion at the site, to include training and education, reconfigure the bandstand area so it is a 360 space – a “theatre in the round”- which would mean moving the toilet facilities and  create wildflower meadows, lawns, a mini wetland, a mini-forest, and paths lined with wildlife-friendly plants making a “coastal eco-park” alongside artworks, social and activity spaces.

Last summer an initial £25,000 Early Development Funding was released and in September Grass appointed Bell Phillips Architects for the project.

Stephen said an assurance was given by the council’s director of regeneration that the main grant would be released but this did not happen.

Thanet council said until the agreement has been signed it would not be possible to transfer any further public funds to the organisation.

But Stephen said the contract contained clauses about publicity which were one-sided in favour of the council and a non-disclosure agreement – gagging order-  was required.

In a statement previously Grass said: “We were forced to halt our progress due to the lack of a grant agreement by the end of October 2022. It was a challenging and frustrating situation, especially considering the significant progress we had made and the enthusiasm of the talented architects working on the project.

“Despite the setback, we managed to accomplish RIBA stage 1 and appoint a chartered surveyor to conduct a thorough measured survey of the bandstand. This would have allowed us to initiate comprehensive cost estimations and detailed architectural planning required for the upcoming RIBA stages 2 and 3 of the project and would have also allowed us to apply for match funding.”

Now Thanet council has withdrawn the grant offer.

‘Decision today’

A council statement says: “As the accountable body for the Margate Town Deal programme, Thanet District Council has taken the decision today (Friday 6 October) to withdraw the £500,000 grant offer made to GRASS to redevelop the Oval Bandstand and Lawns in Cliftonville.

“This decision follows the refusal by GRASS to return a signed grant agreement, necessary to progress with delivery of the project. This is a standard part of the process set out by the government, to ensure that any organisation or third party, in receipt of public funds, has the relevant financial due diligence and governance structures in place.

“A formal decision notice has been published which sets out the reasons behind this decision.

“There is a collective interest in including community projects in the Margate Town Deal Investment Plan so this is a disappointing outcome.

“The council understands the challenges being faced by community organisations in terms of funding core costs and that engaging with government programmes and the language used within them can be a challenge. However, as the funder and accountable body, on behalf of central government, the council is required to follow due process to protect public funding.

“Through the Board, the opportunity for GRASS to meet with the council was provided in August, but this was declined.

“The project was planned as part of the £22.2m Margate Town Deal programme. Any reallocation of the funding will require a formal Cabinet decision.”

Wrestling at The Oval Bandstand Photo Mat Raven

Grass has been forging ahead with works at The Oval and carried out some 3,000 hours on the project, self-funded.

Work to refurbish the site has been carried out by Grass

The site has hosted a busy summer programme of night markets, live music and shows, including a return of wrestling after some 40 years, and has more events lined up for Autumn and Winter.

Grass has been contacted for a response.

The Oval project was part of the Coastal Wellbeing strand of the town deal scheme with an overall allocation of £3.55million.

This includes £1.8million to reinstate the Grade II Listed Walpole Bay Lift, explore improvements for the tidal pool and look at vehicle access and shared space at Hodges Gap and plans for a connected scheme to create a pavilion with community and public facilities.

Margate Skatepark is allocated £750,000, there is £500,000 for revenue funding and the other £500,000 had been for The Oval.

The Oval bandstand project ‘brought to stand-still’ in row over release of Margate Town Deal funding

Packed Summer programme for The Oval Bandstand and Lawns


  1. It seems now somebody has woke up what’s going on with the board obviously this board member if a councillor would be conflict of interest as Eddie kemsley is on the board conflict of interest there as well the other members probably not involved with these schemes the government has noticed what’s going on in Thanet by the looks of it

  2. Nearly 3 years after money given to thanet board how much money has the TOWN received so far ? £0

    • Well, you have been a big supporter to the GRASS group, always mentioning proud to be this, that and the other.
      I don’t remember you saying anything like that regarding the incumbent group of 25 years, running events in a Cliftonville West Ward.

  3. The delay resulted in project leaders Stephen Darrer and Simon Bell saying they would find funding elsewhere and Stephen resigning his role on the Margate Town Deal Board, which was set up to oversee the scheme.

    Hang on a min ! I am understanding this correctly Stephen Darrer was on the board that agreed to give him 500k ? How is this even allowed ?

    What is it with thanet we have dreamland a pvt company getting 4 million from TDC.

    • It’s central government money.
      However the governance issues are still T.D.C.

      If we’re going to talk about squandered monies over time with little benefit for the majority of residents and Council Tax payers, I think the lifts are where the scrutiny should be. All Thanet promenades and most beaches are wheelchair accessible.
      Spending more than a third of the award on one lift utterly beggars belief. There was a halfway reasonable case for the Broadstairs Viking Bay lift with its accessibility issues and footfall. Walpole Bay?🤔 Who in Thanet will benefit? It’s ridiculous. And I say that living only a few hundred yards from it

  4. Common sense has at last prevailed.
    No serving member of any board, should be a recipient of public funds to their group or business, as this surely is a ‘conflict of interest’.
    They have already received £25,000 funding from the MTDB. I would say that was more than enough to cover the repainting of the 16 year old bandstand and other issues.
    If you look on their site, over the last few years they have received considerable sums from other grant giving companies.
    They also run a bar at their events.
    Also, can somebody please enlighten me, to why TDC Estates, not only gifted this 4 acre site to them, but FREEHOLD.
    Most residents living in Cliftonville thought it was going to be on a lease.
    What were they thinking.

    • Oh Shar didn’t you hear of the community transfer process ? Four organisations were involved including the CRA, GRASS olbys and Margate Pride. Your comments are cause you are associated with one of the groups that were unsuccessful. Sours.

      • Poly, I am sorry but you are wrong.
        I am a committee member of the CRA for the last 10 years.
        The CRA were not one of the organisations put forward for the Asset transfer.
        We gave the Grass group £500 for their voucher scheme and £1,000 towards their crowd funder, plus a letter of support from our association.
        I do wish people got their facts right before posting on any platform.
        We never wanted to take on the site.

  5. This is our money being returned to us in the form of a grant by those who think they know best what is good for us!

    When I ask cliftonville residents they say they want to be healthier and happier. The social lounge in Bread and Roses ( the old Rendexvous, building) opens next week. Everyone is welcome. This money will soon be eaten away by inflation and consultants but maybe we could come up with some ideas that would make our lives a bit better immediately.
    We saw the Mayor honour our volunteers and organisations that work to help others in Margate. I think we could make an immediate improvement.

  6. Mmm. A report goes to Councillors requesting that all these funds are accounted for together and that funds for individual projects could be swapped to other projects.

    Then we hear £500k has been withdrawn from one of the recipients.

    So which project is going to get an extra £500k ? Answers on a postcard.

  7. I suspect that most of this money has already been spent to pay TDC’s bills. Whatever excuse or reason is given Thanet projects will not see a penny of this money. When I heard on the radio this morning that schools were having their money reduced when they were already struggling my first thought was Bring on the General Election as soon as possible!

    • Oh Poly,
      I think you have your facts completely wrong.
      I know that the CRA never wanted to be considered, as their vue was that TDC should retain and maintain the Oval Bandstand and the lawns for all groups to use, after all it was a TDC site.
      They NEVER applied, that is fact.
      Contact the Estates department at TDC, who oversaw all to do with the transfer.
      It is public knowledge that the group were not interested.
      Why don’t you contact the Market Manager.
      I am sure she will give you all details.
      It is always best to get your facts straight before putting it in print.
      For the record, I do not belong to any group, but feel very strongly about what happened to the market, only one month after the asset transfer

  8. Has the much touted agreement that has resulted in the spat been made public ? Have the negotiations and minutes of meetings surrounding the asset transfer ever been released in full? Are there covenants in the freehold ? Almost impossible to have a reasoned view without the above.
    As per a recent article all the various pots of money and grants will have to be reviewed as there’s no way the projects can be completed as envisaged on the original budgets. As a nation we’re useless at public projects be it 500k for a bandstand or 100bn for a train set.

  9. The community needs to remember that the Oval Bandstand and Lawns, were not long ago public open space, before they were given for nothing in return, to a few individuals who immediately threatened the incumbent community group with legal proceedings for trespass! The former group of selfless local residents had successfully restored and maintained the bandstand, running extremely popular community events, including the award winning Cliftonville Farmers Market for 25 years!
    Freehold of this public property was gifted to the individuals above by TDC, enabling them to progressively turn it into an unattractive and excluding space, barriered and fenced off so that they can assert their authority and ownership. This fallout with TDC, reflects TDC’s incompetence in granting the freehold rather than a lease serving the public interest, plus the increasingly probable sale or development of this prime seaside location at individuals huge profit, and our cost.
    Also worthy of public concern is that the current TDC cabinet is largely the same as that in place when that freehold was granted, with a current and prominent cabinet member with conflicted interest, falsely accusing the incumbent community group.
    Such conflicts and incompetence see the £millions recently awarded to Thanet being rapidly wasted on consultants and outsiders whose only interest is to milk Thanet, making it impossible for our legacy to be preserved or local potential and benefit to be realised.
    As long as TDC consider themselves unaccountable to us, this will continue. The ballot box has failed to prevent the rot destroying our community.

    • Absolutely spot on Band Off.
      In gifting this asset and the group becoming a CIC, it opened the doors for all sorts of public grants.
      You are also correct about the prominent cabinet officer and Thanet councillor, with their accusations regarding the farmers market, accusing it of running an illegal market with TDC’s permission. Absolutely untrue, as the group took out a FOI request to the council.
      The council and particularly the Estates depatment’s handling of this transfer was beyond belief.
      It looks absolutely terrible, with posts all around it and now has fencing as well.
      In all the seaside towns I have visited, I have never seen anything like it.
      I spoke with Mrs. Chadband at a market after they had to move.
      She was close to tears, saying she could not believe that a community group could pay for a solicitor to send a threatening letter by special delivery to her house at 8 a.m.
      She said she was devastated and this was just a month after the asset transfer.
      TDC’s handling of this, was certainly despicable.

      • The solicitors letter also stated that if we were to continue to hold unlcensed events that amount to a trespass and nuisance of our clients land, they are entitled to apply to the local County Court, for an injunction. Should such a court application be necessary, our client will also be seeking the court costs of that application against you personally being the manager
        (June Chadband)
        This was just one paragraph.
        Dated August 19th, 2021.
        Then they cancelled the August farmers market.

      • Hello Peter. How’s life treating you, I thought you’d left for a sunnier climate and the love of a good woman?

    • It is still a public open space. Only if you are fit enough to climb over the 3 metre fence, does it have planning permission? To be perfectly fair there is a gate that you can drag open to gain access. But to a visitor it looks closed, disgraceful and doesn’t bode well for the future.

    • Hello Barry, how is the new role, it must be keeping you busy? Glad to see you are still finding time to keep those sea views of yours clear of people, cars and litter. Bless you poppet.

  10. Wonder if it will go to the Winter Gardens or Dreamland instead-as if that is a contest for TDC? Maybe on another ‘art’ project?

  11. The bullies bullied!
    Maybe TDC could use some of that cash to reconsider the 18% increase they are imposing on the CRA for the use of the field for the Farmers market – which takes it to almost £300 for a Sunday morning.

  12. These comments are disgraceful, it’s mostly just Farmers Market people sticking the knife into the Grass group when they’ve received some disappointing news.

    It just looks like the absolute worst kind of bullying and does not reflect well on the CRA to settle scores in this way.

    • Oh dear, at least comments are not libellous like some of yours on other threads regarding the farmers market.
      We are all allowed to comment on this thread and so far everybody has been respectful.
      The market obviously means nothing to you, but to many local people and I include myself, it does.

      • Well said James.
        This lady enjoys going to the bandstand and that is good, but clearly is not looking at the broader picture, only what suits her.
        Most of us are looking at the broader picture, their treatment to the previous group, only a month after the asset transfer, was dreadful.
        You Gerty are not interested in that.
        Most of us are.

  13. Used to be a nice area to sit but now looks like the start of an asylum camp with all that fencing around it… Some one going to steal the band stand?
    Apparently they SELL tickets when you can see and hear thru a mesh fence…muppetry
    What’s in it for the GRASS bods??

  14. I have just found this thread and have to say, I am somewhat confused.
    Eddie Kelmsley, Dreamland a private company, Stephen Darrer, secretary of Grass, both members of the MTDB allocating said funds, both recipients of said funds, one £4 million the other £5OO,OOO you could not make it up!
    Neither should have received funding as others have said, as it is blatantly a Conflict of Interest.
    Who on earth oversaw all of this at TDC and agreed to it and who on earth at the Council agreed to the Asset Transfer being Freehold.
    Surely we should be able to find out who agreed to all of this after all councillors are voted in by the electorate and TDC staff are paid for by all of us.

    Dreamland must be making a fortune with all the bands they have had throughout the summer.

    Regarding the Grass group, from what I understand this is Central Government money, in other words we have all contributed.
    I also understand that every recipient of these funds has to sign this particular document, which is only right as it is publicly funded, distributed from Central Government and has to be totally transparent.

    It would appear, that these two men do not feel they have to, unless they get what they want in the document, but no, this pair feel that they can dictate how it should be worded for them.

    Most recipients would be pleased to receive any funding and are prepared to sign a legal document which the Council has to adhere to.

    But not these two, such arrogance!


    • You forgot the Chief of East Kent Colleges Group who chaired the Board and the Group then get given £6m of Levelling Up money which is included in the overall financial pot.

      • It should perhaps be borne in mind that these grants are pretty much predetermined in terms of who gets the money for the most part. A small portion gets handed out to similarly small projects, but the big chunks go to those who are deemed worthy and know how to play the game ( just as many council contracts go to “preferred” companies as a result of the tendering process and requirements).
        It’s possibly done like this to attract more positive attention , make it look like the government/ grant bodies are especially generous ( where as in reality the money is only from a different source to what it once would have been) and last but most certainly not least , if things go wrong the blame does’nt become politically embarassing. ( where as the money coming from a tory government does stifle the “tories underfund us” brigade in areas under contr9l of councils that are not tory.
        All part of modern life.

      • If this is fact about the £6 million, it stinks!
        As a Cliftonville Thanet resident I am appalled.
        I was appalled that the council gifted this site Freehold and believe that we should all be able to find out, the names of the officers/councillors who agreed to it being freehold and not a lease.
        I have lost all faith in TDC’s handling of anything in our area.
        I certainly will not be voting in any local elections again.
        I am truly disgusted with the lot of them!

Comments are closed.