Competing visions for Margate's Dreamland go head-to-head

Scenic Railway
Image caption Thanet District Council has in place almost £10m to create an amusement park of historical rides

It was one of the UK's best-loved amusement parks, but for the past seven years, Margate's Dreamland has been left to fall into disrepair.

Over the next two weeks, two competing visions to bring the site back into use will be thrashed out before a planning inspector.

Thanet District Council has in place almost £10m to create an amusement park of historical rides for the seafront attraction.

It has applied for a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to buy the site from landowner, the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company (MTCRC).

The landowners, however, object to the forced sale. They have their own vision for the site, which they believe has a better chance of success.

Talks broke down

It involves building more than 400 homes, as well as restoring the Grade II* listed Scenic Railway around a fun park.

Their vision also includes a digital media studio, an outdoor space and opportunities for restaurants, cafes and shops.

The council says it has tried to reach an "amicable solution" with MTCRC but talks broke down because they could not agree on "realistic housing numbers".

Image caption Councillor Clive Hart said Dreamland's plight was "heartbreaking"

Councillor Clive Hart, the new Labour leader of Thanet District Council, said: "Doing nothing on the Dreamland site is not acceptable.

"Having already spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to come to an agreement with the landowners, the council is left with compulsory purchase as the only way forward.

"Dreamland is a precious asset, not just for people in Thanet, but the whole country and we cannot afford to lose it."

The council has put aside £4m for the project and has secured £3m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and £3.7m from the Department for Culture Media and Sport.

The funding, however, is dependent on the council gaining full ownership of the site.

'Ambitions are unrealistic'

The restoration of the cinema building will form a second phase, for which funding has yet to be obtained.

The park will be run by the Dreamland Trust, which will be given the site by the council for a peppercorn rent.

Mr Hart added: "There's no doubt about it, the fortunes of Dreamland run hand in hand with the town. The town has taken a plummet over the last 30 years, as indeed has Dreamland.

"People are at their wits end as to what has been allowed to happen."

The landowners, however, believe the council's ambitions are unrealistic.

Image caption The landowners have set out an alternative vision for the Dreamland site, which includes housing

They believe the council has overestimated the number of visitors the amusement park is likely to attract.

Toby Hunter, of the Margate Town Regeneration Company, said he did not know why the relationship with the council had broken down.

He said: "We had a joint vision that they have completely gone away from. We don't believe that they will make money and we don't feel that they will have the numbers."

The landowners believe the sale of the homes they plan to build will generate enough funds to make the rest of the project a success.

Mr Hunter warned if the council succeeds in implementing the CPO, the site could remain vacant for decades.

Nick Laister, who chairs the Dreamland Trust, is backing the council scheme and criticised the owners' lack of progress since buying the site in 2005.

He said: "It is essential that the CPO succeeds. Otherwise, this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reopen the park and repair these important listed buildings will be lost."

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