Thanet District Council has granted the Margate Caves Community Education Trust a long lease for the historic Northdown Road site.
The lease means the Trust can now access a £1m grant it gained from the Heritage Lottery Fund earlier this year alongside the £420,000 granted by the Big Lottery Fund last year for work to get the Caves open.
Following a six-year campaign, The Margate Caves Community Education Trust secured the funding to create a landmark building that includes community facilities such as a cafe, alongside a visitor centre that will provide access to the restored Caves, which were closed in 2004.
In 2010 TDC filed a planning application for housing on the site. Faced with strong public opposition this proposal was delayed, allowing local people to pursue options for saving this historical site and the caves for public benefit.
In January 2011 the local community formed The Friends of Margate Caves (FOMC) as a formally constituted community group, recognised by the council, to develop, pursue and implement a plan to reopen the Caves.
In November 2013 The Margate Caves Community Education Trust (TMCCET) was formed and registered with the Charity Commission.
Designed by award-winning architects Kaner Olette, the building received planning permission in 2015.
By 2016, TMCCET had prepared full plans to make the Caves safe again, build a new visitor centre with community rooms, and landscape the site over the caves.
In November 2016, an application was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the money to start the work. In March 2017, HLF confirmed their grant award.
Work has now started and the Caves are due to be reopened in 2019.
Cllr Hunter Stummer Schmertzing (pictured), Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Enterprise Services at Thanet District Council said: “We are delighted to be able to grant this lease and, on behalf of the council, would like to say a big thank you to the Trust and Friends of Margate Caves who have worked tirelessly over the last six years to conserve these historic caves.
“They first opened to the public in the 1860s so regenerating this derelict site will not only help attract yet more visitors to the area but also provide learning opportunities and meeting space for the local community.”
Margate Caves Trustee, Dan Thompson, said: “Our quirky, historic site sits on the border between the Old Town and Cliftonville, giving visitors a better route between the two.
“We are also providing much-needed community rooms and creating a new village hall for Cliftonville so we’re making something that really is for both visitors and locals.”
The project is due to be completed by 2019.