Thursday, February 03, 2011

Margate Caves time for council to fess up

Its one of those unfortunate features of Thanet Council, that public statements or information coming from officers and councillors is often misleading and at worst one assumes deliberately intended to hoodwink and bamboozle, we who bankroll and suffer  the consequences of slipshod local government.

A prime example is Thanet councils decision to seal up the entrance to Margate caves, various figures have been quoted as too how much it would cost to make the caves safe, £100,000, £150,000 and even I am told a rather hysterical £250,000 at one point on Simon Moores Site ( apparently later changed to the more credible £150,000).

Both Thanet Extra and Gazette reporters quote a figure £100,000, so what are we to conclude, maybe council officers don't wish us to worry or maybe Cllr Simon Moores knows more and isn't frightened to let us know.

I know Cllr Moores is a busy person and I just wonder, if perhaps he's taking on a bit more than he can handle, still it seems such is his omnipotence, that recently, I note he has taking to giving his opinion on how or whether I should blog, a bit like all that hypercritical nonsense spouted about blogging protocols for councillor.

Moores seems intent on engineering a spat, and I for one really have better things to do, still I sometimes wonder if "its just me" although I am truly indebted to the lady who emailed me earlier this week and used rather emphatic language which convinced me it wasn't.

Both officers and politicians have a duty to communicate clearly and in an objective way, there will always be politicians happy to fill the media with instant and meaningless babble and waffle.

My comment on whether or not Margate Caves is worth saving for a hundred grand is this, I'm led to believe by councillors, that senior officers, superfluous to a leaner council, will be getting generous enhanced severance pay, and its my belief that the sums involved would easily pay for safety work on the Caves.

If Thanet council could fess up and give us accurate figures, I think we know how the public would wish to see money spent, invested in local heritage for the future, or given to those who in some cases have contributed to the area's decline.


  1. Tony, I see you are indulging your talent for hyperbole so I will, once again, try and help you with the facts, although you appear reluctant to let any of these get in the way of a good story, one which is swiftly assuming a political dimension for no good reason.

    Firstly, as a businessman, I have a personal impression of the cost of bringing the caves back into public use, as expressed on my own weblog. This takes into account not only the council’s £100,000 figure for making the caves safe but the on-going maintenance and repair costs involved in making them a viable tourist attraction, so in my unqualified opinion this figure would be closer to £150,000 - £200,000 over several years and you would have to balance this against its viability as a commercial attraction.

    Let’s remind ourselves that the caves closed in 2004 following a visit from the Health and Safety Executive, who served a prohibition notice requiring essential work to be carried out. (HSE visited following a complaint that the site was not DDA compliant). Disability access is now a legal requirement that cannot be avoided and has caused problems for untold numbers of legacy sites across the country.

    Unfortunately the owners of the site were not in a position to meet the costs to carry out this work - TDC did negotiate with the owner to try and reach a resolution but a viable proposal was not put forward.

    The work that is currently being undertaken at the Margate Caves site is essential to address a number of serious safety concerns. Whilst of course it would be desirable to re-open the caves to carry out the full range of work required to allow public access, this would cost the council in the’ region’ of at least £100,000, which in the current climate is simply not a viable option. Until Thanet’s economy can support the funds required to carry out this essential work, the council is simply not in a position to re-open the Caves at this time”.

    Finally, there is absolutely no intention to dispose of the caves. The planning application for nearby houses does mean that the existing entrance would be re-sited, however there is an alternative entrance (Forster entrance) which could be used if the caves were to re-open as a tourist attraction. If future funding can be found to carry out the necessary internal improvements then the site could be re-opened as a tourist attraction and I would both welcome and encourage this. Also in the short term should anyone approach me with a viable proposal for the area then I would be happy to speak with them.

    PS.. if the lady who emailed you is upset about something, then she's more than welcome to contact me directly. I'm not hard to find!

  2. TDC would have plenty of money for this if Richard Samuels wasn't paid over £200,000 redundancy money.

  3. Dr M, I already have ( The possibility that the alternative entrance could be used has never been explored, and you should know that. If it wasn't possible to use it, any chance of a future for the caves would have been lost. I don't understand why you would use something which is pure conjecture to try to placate objectors, in the absence of any feasibility work. To say the least, it is irresponsible to dismiss part of Margate's heritage, and something which could form a great part of Margate's tourism future, in this trivial way.

  4. OK.. let's try a little simple maths here. I wonder how many people in Thanet, other than me have actually visited the Margate caves but that's besides the point.

    I'll ignore the other 'Red Herring' and for the purposes of speculation, let's say some generous Thanetonian decides to take on the caves as a business venture. Investing his or her £100,000 in a venture to attract tourists and a commitment to a 'repairing' lease of sorts.

    As I wrote in the previous comment, come and see me with your business plan!

    The Chief Executive's costs are another Red Herring and I'll repeat for those who are unwilling to grasp that TDC does not have £100,000 to spend on Margate Caves or indeed, many other legacy assets at a time of deep cuts to government cuts.

    Thanet is a net recipient of grants and benefits dealing with the toughest public sector funding challenges since the Second World War. The money to satisfy public wishes, make repairs to all our legacy buildings and bring them up to the levels of modern legislation, HSE/DDA etc, simply isn't available within the budgets we have to work with today.

  5. It would be ridiculously premature to write a business plan at the moment when so much is up in the air. The current planning application is to build all over the front of the site - this may make the caves unviable by preventing the building of the necessary visitor centre and threatening DDA compliability. As well as that, English Heritage are considering listing the caves, the true cost of renovations have not been ascertained, and private and charity funding avenues have not been explored.

  6. Fiona

    When you have a business plan or a practical solution to the costs involved then share them but until these appear, the council has taken appropriate and necessary steps to make the area safe, deny it to drug addicts and remains ready and willing, I'm sure, to explore 'sensible' suggestions in regard to their future.

  7. Well that's good, but the planning proposal must be withdrawn to allow it to happen.

  8. I agree with you Simon, the fact that many of us have never visited the caves IS beside the point; just because things don't appeal to all of us personally doesn't meant they aren't (or weren't) popular with others, & in particular tourists.

    So, is the planning proposal going to be withdrawn?

  9. its obvious that the caves have been sealed now because of the planning application. if it was purely for safety reasons they would've done it years ago and not now when they have no money.

  10. COUNT 1 Dispite an empassioned speech by Martin Wise (deputy leader) the planning committee voted for a futher 7 1 bed flats atop of the 2 blocks of flats in Eaton Road backing on to the Dreamland site.Disregarding the TDC's no more one bed flats policy.

    Count 2 The green space in Dalby Squ. which was used by the younger children.It gave them security, allowed parents to keep an eye on them and helped intergrate the many different nationalties. All for 20 units.3 Labour councilors gave tear jerking speeches. However the rest either abstained or voted for the project.

    2 Cases of utter hypocrasy

    Count 3 The Margate Caves planning application. The most ill conceived of them all.Never before has Margate needed to have more places for visitors to keep themselves amused.

    The residents are very angry about just these 3 not counting many others over the past years.

    Beware the Ides of MAY

  11. The planning application is presently in abeyance as a consequence of the letters that have been received and the consultation efforts that are being taken.

    The caves have been sealed because drug addicts and others with an unhealthy and possibly morbid interest in the underground world have been breaking in to amuse themselves (like the public toilets) and as a public safety matter, the council had no choice but to seal the entrance.

    We don't have £100,000 or more to spend but would welcome approaches from anyone who has the funds and a sensible business plan for running the caves as a vibrant tourist attraction

  12. All great stuff from 'J said,' but just who are you going to vote for come the ides of May. Your post seems to be critical of all parties in the council and there are not too many other alternatives.

    In the present financial climate cannot see a switch between the main contenders suddenly reopening the caves. Perhaps we would have a better chance with the wizards and fairies. At least they have magic wands and spells.

  13. Todays Gazette says £80.000 down from 1/4 mill. any other bids? please send them on a £50 note to Friends of the Caves.

  14. Regardless of the size of the figure there is no money available. The Thanet Gazette, you may note has made no effort to seek an estimate, clarification or indeed a quote from me as Cabinet Member even though they are on to me at the moment for aerial photographs of Pfizer for next week's paper!

    Latest I've heard from the BBC is that I'm closing the Shell Grotto too!! Will the people involved with throwing disinformation around with such savage enthusiasm give it a rest please!

  15. DrM if the council is so hard up how come the Chief Exec will retire, no wait, be made redundant less than 12 months before retirement, on a bumped up pay and £230,000 in his pocket?

    If you lot can find that much of our tax money to pay off the old boys club members and other associates of the funny handshake brigade how come you can not find THE SAME AMOUNT to open something of cultural and historical value? Sure you are not going to make a huge ROI but the value to the area far outweighs the yearly ROI.

    A struggling business should not if it wishes to say solvent give massive golden handshakes to near retired members of staff. Why should the Council be any different. If your business went around doing that you would be signing on with the other 4,000 people.

    I'll admit you know your stuff when it comes to eGovernment (or Thanet's lack thereof) but this claim that the caves are too expensive is utter bunk.

  16. Simon,
    You are under fire from all angles and to a degree i feel sorry for you as you are the only one out of the whole council willing to communicate, for that you undoubtedly have our thanks.

    However, it must be remembered that Thanet is tragicaly dying a very slow and painful death, so many of us desperately want to save it but it always seems that the Council are pulling in the opposite direction, with little or no real reason.
    Thanetonians have over the years seen local councillors make the most horendous descisions with catastrophic results, ultimately we all want to be able to trust and respect our council, we never have done and the way its going we never will.

  17. As a councillor, what I find deeply frustrating is that one is elected, works with one's colleagues in the public interest and for the common good, all within a rigidly defined framework of laws and regulations that the public is clearly unhappy with.

    I find too frequently that the public in general and invariably 'Bloggers' en masse have a restricted or abstracted grasp of where a council's authority begins and ends; the letters page of the local paper frequently illustrating the same conundrum.

    At this period in our history, we all need to be clear about two things. Thanet's past was built on a domestic tourist economy that left a generation ago and since then, with our geography being a disadvantage, successive councils, Labour and Conservative, have struggled to fill the gap with jobs, opportunity and education being among the principal objectives.

    Council decisions are invariably determined by a tight straight-jacket of regulations and legislation and available funds. Nothing is or can be done arbitrarily and without proper officer and/or legal advice.

    To quote from Sir Thomas More for a moment:

    "This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

    Thanet and its neighbours are faced with challenges the like of which haven't been seen in generations. Now you can either trust me and my very capable colleagues in Cabinet to meet these challenges with a steady pair of hands and broad experience of finance and business or in May, you can vote for an alternative which has yet to display any true grasp of the magnitude of the challenge ahead?

    There lies the wonder of modern democracy but whatever they might promise, they too will be bound by the same regulations and legislation in trying to manage the huge budget deficit passed to us by the last Labour government, that a largely benefits dependent Thanet must somehow manage in the next four years.

    I've said enough here and I'm monopolising Tony's weblog for which I must apologise.

  18. Many tourists visit an area because of the attractions available. It does not mean that they visit every possibility but they like to have choice. That is why the Caves are important, it adds to the choice and caves in general are an attraction. So why cant TDC see that.
    If Matt is right on the Chief Exec's payoff amount when there is a cheaper alternatve, then to the voting public this looks like a gross mis-use of funds agreed to by the Cabinet. In case they cant work it out it would be cheaper to put the Chief Exec on gardening leave where he would require no support staff or use any other TDC resources or expences.
    As DrM says
    "Council decisions are invariably determined by a tight straight-jacket of regulations and legislation and available funds. Nothing is or can be done arbitrarily and without proper officer and/or legal advice."

    I hope they have followed all this in this decision.

  19. sorry got bored, so someone may have said this already? but DDA is not the new kid on the block, and has been umbrelled under the Equality Act, which came in, in October 2010, and me living in the USA got that!
    second, the DDA or Equaity whatever...disabled access and ever thing in the Act, is what is reasonable! so the Cheddar Gorge caves....not reasonable for disabled access...
    so like the bunch of Daily Mail readers you are, you haven't read the Acts and if you have, you don't understand them, and, and this is the BIG and! councils explote this ignorence, by pushing the small point the HSE have noted disabled access, rather than being honest and it is the funding, this is a convienient get out clause for the council, and yet again the jokes on elf and safety will come out without people understanding them.
    Tony, I could bore for England on gov Acts...but I am a nice person if dull :)

  20. of forgot to say drM maybe you need a person like me to actually explain the acts to you, but I will agree on the stabilisation of the area, but hay hoo if the council had maintaned regularly the cave would not be in the mess they are in, may not be your fault, but the fact remains, it was 2004? 6 years ago, maintainance carried out in small bites to the public purse may have stopped this happening.
    and your figures of cost sound like big money when you are talking about your personal mortage, but as a public servant, I can tell you my budget per year is greater than the figure you are talking about.
    I have just come into post and without thinking I can save 10% no worries, 20% would have to think but doable. 30% I would have to be imaginative, but still maybe doable but their would be noticable cuts in service at this point, I am from the NHS into council service, there is so much money sloshing around, I am embarested in my area, I can't talk for the rest? like social services ect as they are underfunded

  21. I really dont like replying to anonymouses however given my comments on planning were critical of both colours there was a deadly silence.

    I cant think why.

    Answering anonymous on who to vote for.

    Ive heard a rumour and only a rumour of the possibility of a Thanet Futures party being moted but please dont quote me.

  22. As ever what looks like long winded comments, comprising waffle, babble and misdirection from the Dr.M.

    You know a politician is trying to distract you, when an answer or reply is more verbose than the suggestion or subject matter.

    Given the inches of waffle Simon DrM fails to respond to much of my posting, no surprise for regulars I know.

  23. Well said Tony, its an affliction that it seems most of them have caught

  24. The Friends of Margate Caves are attracting more publicity and funding every day. That increases the chances of private investor interest. Local support remains vital and pressure on the cabal who runs the council must be maintained. We are talking about a handful of overpaid men who like to boast of their public service while they hold the public in contempt. The Dreamland flats will be another folly like Gate Quays which has 23 empty flats and is up for aucion. Who in their right mind wants to live on Eaton Road alongside the Mirsky's slum?. Meanwhile every tasty patch of land is jerry built for cash - the ice cream blobs on Trinity Square, eyesores on Dalby Square, rubbish opposite the Community Pharmacy Gallery. Why do we need more housing? There are 800 empty properties in Margate and every new flat or house is rented to the leavings of the London boroughs or left empty. What this town needs is business coming in, not the tedious management of declining state handouts. Wealth generation is not the expansion of TDC. TDC does not generate wealth, it is an engorged tick on the jugular of the taxpayer. The public sector grew larger than the private sector under Blair and Brown. Yet it is entirely funded by the taxpayer. Ironically it is Labour local councillors who are supportin g the Margate Caves, so I say vote Labour in May!

  25. Broadside, what a strange contradiction to highlight the expansion of the public sector under Labour, and all the wastage and bureaucracy that goes with that, and then call on people to vote Labour in the local elections in May.

    First off, one would have to question whether the local Labour group with its internal squabbles and failed leadership is even fit for the purpose and how would they spend their time and our money. I would suspect it would be a continuation of Steve Ladyman's tenure here as our South Thanet MP wherein slagging off the KCC and grammar schools took priority over helping local people.

    At a time when this area needs politicians at local, county and national level working together, I would suggest the last thing Thanet needs is a politically motivated anti-group generally trying to be a thorn is the side of county and central government. They would probably even make us a nuclear free zone, whatever that means!

  26. Rather fascinated by the comment from J said about preferring not to respond to anonymous contributors. How less anonymous is J said for it is just a psuedonym that links to nothing else.

    I would suggest the only plus to using a psuedonym is that one can follow that contributor's subsequent comments unless, of course, they choose to switch in and out of other aliases and anonymous postings like one well known local conspiracy theorist.

  27. 4000+ unemployed
    why build more flats for more unemployed?.

  28. What I mean is that a Tory dominated TDC is unlikely to negotiate with anyone. The opposition parties need to be stronger to make a compromise on the caves more likely. Actually I am a Conservative but when I see the kind of sell offs going on nationally ( Forestry Commission land for example) and locally (now TDC is trying to dispose of the undercliff at Westgate- see WASP site) I am dismayed. Politicians need to feel threatened; the public needs to hit them where it hurts. That means turfing the useless buggers out and bombarding those left with bile until they realise the public wants to be represented not patronised. Moores is obviously part of the problem. He is not worth the expenses we, the taxpayer are paying him. I wouldn't be surprised if TDC had paid addicts to go and shoot up in the cave huts! What a pity that caves are not as combustible as scenic railways! Or hotels and Tory clubs and arcades!.The town is being deliberately sabotaged by the puppetmasters at TDC. We all know that our taxes are being diverted to Westwood while the high street breathes its last. The new town there- built on a farming infrastructure!- will be the future administrative capital of Thanet. Property values in Margate will continue to plummet until the entire town is sold cut price at auction. It will then be bulldozed and turned into a wind farm, with vast subsidies going to the new owners, former members of ...TDC! I stll think Margate can be revived but not with vast swathes of the town given over to slumdwelling transients. The dumping of London's unwanted must stop, yet the slumlords want the supply to continue as the underclass seldom complains about the poor housing they are given. When 54% of Cliftonville housing is classed as non decent who else is going to live there but the socially excluded? TDC wants the Housing Benefit budget to rise so it can employ more paper pushers and put the council tax up. Work expands to fill space.

  29. Broadside, if you are a Conservative I must be a member of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front). Your attack on Dr. Simon Moore is totally uncalled for, being one of the more sensible and informative of our local councillors, and do you have any idea how much district councillors are paid for giving their time. Evidently not I would say for I would not take the crap they have to for that kind of peanuts.

    Talking of ZANU/PF, you should try Mugabe if you think our politicians are bad. Then you would have something to complain about. but, not that you would be allowed to!

  30. Perhaps the bricking up of the caves would have made more sense if they had left the drug addicts in there whilst it was done.

    All in all, folk do seem to have great difficulty grasping the fact that the council have insufficient money to take on the caves themselves. Equally, if they were such a hot business project likely to attract lots of visitors, there would be no shortage of private sector funding.

    The message is abundantly clear, not just locally but nationally as well, we cannot as a nation continue to run a state top heavy economy. Because we have overdone that in recent years we now have to suffer whinging cutbacks to bring our finances to order.

  31. How can a conversation start with Margate Caves and end up with Zanu PF ???

  32. On another day it could start with pancakes for tea and finish up with the Deal bombing. In fact, that finish happens most days.

  33. I think Simon Moores misunderstands DDA compliance, which requires that site operators take "reasonable steps" to ensure access for the disabled, considering the nature of the site. Dungeness lighthouse is open to the public although there is no wheelchair access to the tower and I could cite numerous other examples.

  34. I think Simon Moore has proved to be fool, see latest report on caves, what finger in what pie has he got, the carpeting contract for the new builds has already been taken, so whats left, double glazing!! him and almost all the others like him have brought thanet down to a laughing stock, dare he tell us why the Arlington lease was never enforced and who is in charge of enforcinng it, iris is not forthcoming with the info, maybe if we had got the 3 mill from ramsgate docks we could reopen the caves and still be enough for the rest to be hidden in the council chambers pink papers and of course disributed to slum landlords like freshwater and other businessmen