The second week of the Public Inquiry into the council’s bid to confirm the compulsory purchase order of the Dreamland site has started with evidence from one of the objectors' architect.
On the fifth day of the Inquiry, John Assael gave evidence on behalf of the first objectors, the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company (MTCRC).
Evidence from John Assael wrote:
John Assael from Assael Architecture began by explaining his background, saying that he had been practising on his own account since 1979 and had undertaken many schemes either with listed buildings or in conservation areas. He listed a Grade II* listed cinema as amongst his recent projects. He also explained that he has acted for some of the country’s largest house builders, banks, local authorities, and housing associations, saying that he has helped to deliver “many thousands of apartments and houses around the country”. He said that many of these were mixed use schemes, “very similar to Dreamland”.
He has been commissioned to design a scheme on behalf of MTCRC and he told the Inquiry that they had progressed well with detailed plans for much of the site.
Mr. Assael then went on to review the council's and Dreamland Trust’s proposals, saying that their “vision is for only half the site”. He explained that the fact that the Grade II* cinema building would, in his view, be mothballed under the council’s plans “seems like such a wasted opportunity”. He said that if the heritage amusement park failed, then “Margate will be no better off than today”.
He then took the Inquiry through the council’s proposals, criticising them as not being in line with the Dreamland planning brief, as the brief refers to an all year round tourist attraction and, under the council’s plans, the amusement park would only be open for nine months of the year. He also talked about the public realm, or open space, saying MTCRC’s scheme would create this, allowing different events to take place throughout the year.
Mr. Assael then went on to talk about MTCRC’s scheme, making it clear that there was “no difference” between their scheme and the council’s in terms of looking after the listed structures on the site. He went on to explain that he felt that the setting of the listed structures could be further enhanced by MTCRC’s plans to remove the Wally World building and the seaplane hangar attached to the grade II* listed Dreamland cinema and relocate them to the nearby All Saints site.
He then turned his attention to the idea of building a residential development close to an amusement park. Although Mr Assael confirmed that MTCRC’s proposals for housing on the site are “still embryonic”, he believes that “the proximity of the park is one of the big marketing benefits”, and he didn’t see any problem at all with the two elements being so close together. He also referred to the Ferris Wheel that was on the Dreamland site in the past and the fact that it had been close to housing to the east of the Dreamland site.
Mr. Assael explained that the MTCRC scheme was “proposing to design a new quarter” in Margate and, with the grade II* listed cinema and Scenic Railway along with a new public square they are proposing, the “product here is going to be completely different”. He explained that the scheme would have a lot of four and five bedroom properties and would be private housing, and he highlighted that there is very little of this type of housing in the centre of Margate, with many recent schemes concentrating on social housing.
He then turned his attention to the MTCRC plans for the Dreamland cinema building, saying that they were proposing to convert it to a cultural hub in phase one of their development and this would “enhance the appreciation” of the building. He was then critical of the council and Dreamland Trust’s plans, describing it as “tragic” that the cinema wouldn’t be brought back into use in stage one of their scheme.
Mr. Assael was then cross-examined by the council’s barrister, Mr. Edwards.
John Assael cross examination wrote:
The council’s barrister began by looking at the proposals from MTCRC, asking how likely it was that they would change significantly in the future. Mr. Assael explained that there would be some modifications, although the principle of conversion of the cinema to a cultural hub and of construction of a residential development would not change fundamentally. He said that he was “pretty comfortable” with where they had located the amusement park and that he felt that having 70% of the residential development as houses was “pretty fixed”.
Mr. Assael went on to explain that the company was appointed by MTCRC at the beginning of 2011, with other parts of the design team brought in later in the year.
He was then asked by the council’s barrister about the “acoustic challenges” which may arise from placing housing next to an amusement park. Mr. Assael felt that it was possible to deal with the issues with external noise through double glazing and ventilation, although he admitted that no noise analysis had yet been carried out on the site. Mr. Assael explained that he did not feel that noise would be an issue, as the residential development would be on higher land than the Scenic Railway. However, he did accept that, under his plans, houses would be introduced closer to the source of noise than had previously been found there.
The council’s barrister then asked where Mr. Assael had demonstrated financial viability for MTCRC’s plans, as his evidence stated that he aimed to do. He told the Inquiry that he had been talking about the vision for the site, which includes viability, but said “I deal with architectural matters” and that he didn’t claim to have the answers to the business plan.
Mr. Assael was next asked about the research that had been carried out to look at how much housing was appropriate on the site to subsidise the work on the listed buildings. He said that their instructions had been to get as “much as possible” residential development on the site while remaining compliant with planning policies. He also acknowledged that despite doing this, the business case still showed an annual loss for the amusement park under MTCRC’s plans.
After talking about the different levels on the site, the council’s barrister went on to question Mr. Assael about the second signature ride being planned for the amusement park element of MTCRC’s scheme, a ‘heritage experience’ simulator. Mr. Assael confirmed that this would be located on the lower ground floor level (with flats above) and would therefore be prone to damage by flooding.
During cross-examination, Mr. Assael stated that MTCRC were “several months away” from submitting a planning application. He also confirmed that Dreamland had always been a major tourist attraction and that, at no time in its history, had high quality terraced housing been a feature on it.
Mr. Assael was then asked whether he had ever designed a residential development next to an amusement park and he confirmed that he had not. He was asked about the issue of noise and light pollution to those homes and Mr. Assael explained that his team had talked about hours of operation and the location of speakers at the various rides. He did admit that he had no information about noise or light pollution for homes that might be built on the site because “it’s early days yet” for the MTCRC proposal.
Once the council’s barrister had finished his cross-examination, the Inspector asked a number of questions.
Questions from the Planning Inspector to John Assael wrote:
The Inspector wanted to know whether the whole scheme has to hang together “as a whole”, which Mr. Assael confirmed, saying that the principle and amount of development was set. The Inspector then asked about the housing proposed for the site, saying that the site was “not terribly attractive for housing” as it stands and asking Mr. Assael if he was confident that it would generate enough interest. Mr. Assael explained that his firm was one of the few architects that was expanding at the moment and that much of that was down to the importance they placed on marketing. He went on to say that he was “reasonably confident” a housebuilder would be interested in MTCRC’s proposal.
The Inspector then turned to look at affordable housing, as none is currently included in the MTCRC scheme. Mr. Assael stated that if more funds were available (perhaps through scaling back plans for the cinema), apartments or terraced houses could be allocated to affordable housing.
The Inspector then pointed out that Mr. Assael had been quite critical of the council’s proposals for the Dreamland cinema building. He went on to say that English Heritage are strong supporters of the council’s proposals and had supported the CPO. Mr. Assael said that he was confident that agreement could be reached with English Heritage on his client’s proposals, having done this before in a previous project.
Mr. Assael was then asked about the fundamental differences between the plans of the council and MTCRC for the Dreamland cinema building. Mr. Assael said that they were planning “modest” changes to the exterior of the building, while internally they would make some alterations while looking after the main decorative features, promising to protect the organ.
The Inspector also wanted to know what would happen in the future to the public land proposed by MTCRC and whether it would be retained by the landowners or passed to the council to maintain. Mr. Assael explained that in other schemes he had been involved in, a management company was set up to look after public spaces, with residents having shares in that company. The Inspector then questioned him further, pointing out that his assertion that the town would be left with a public park should the amusement park fail was “not quite right”. Mr. Assael responded that the obligation to maintain the park would be covered through a Section 106 planning agreement, although he admitted that he wasn’t “quite sure” what was in the business plan.
The Inspector next turned to MTCRC’s plans to use a site along All Saints Avenue as part of their redevelopment and the fact that it was “not a very attractive route to get there”. He asked Mr. Assael about the museum planned for the site, with Mr. Assael replying that the “business plan doesn’t rely on many visitors to make it work.” He described it as an industrial complex with people repairing rides, offering “rather a gritty sort of experience”, and he acknowledged that the route to get there would need improvement to entice people in.
The Inquiry resumes at 10:00am on Wednesday 18 January with more witnesses from the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company (MTCRC).
The Inquiry was originally scheduled to conclude on Friday 20 January. However, it now appears likely that additional time will be required for all of the evidence to be heard, with Wednesday 15, Thursday 16 and Friday 17 February and the week commencing Monday 5 March as the additional proposed dates.
"He asked Mr. Assael about the museum planned for the site, with Mr. Assael replying that the “business plan doesn’t rely on many visitors to make it work.” He described it as an industrial complex with people repairing rides, offering “rather a gritty sort of experience”, and he acknowledged that the route to get there would need improvement to entice people in."