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Battle to save West Cliff Hall and Gardens in Ramsgate from council's disposal list

By Katie Davis

A former Doctor Who assistant has warned a council's inactivity could exterminate a project to regenerate what was once one of Kent's grandest concert halls.

More than £300,000 has already been raised to transform West Cliff Hall and Gardens in Ramsgate, but Janet Fielding says that could go to waste unless a prompt decision is made on its future.

She condemned a Thanet District Council (TDC) decision to put the building - latterly a Motor Museum - on its disposal list without any provisos, calling it a waste of yet more time.

Former Doctor Who actress Janet Fielding
Former Doctor Who actress Janet Fielding

It has stood derelict since 2005.

Dreams to transform the site into a community destination began with a tentative approach to the council by Ms Fielding, who lives in Ramsgate.

The following year she was invited to put a business plan together for the hall.

Since then Project Motorhouse – a registered charity – has evolved into a fully-costed plan.

Ms Fielding, the organisation's project director, said: "The site was on the council's disposal list from 2005 to 2010 without attracting any offers.

"How long is it going to sit on the disposal list this time?

"All TDC is doing is wasting yet more time.

The West Cliff Hall today
The West Cliff Hall today

"Meanwhile water is getting in and the structure is continuing to deteriorate.

"Project MotorHouse has been working to save the site since 2009.

"We have raised more than £300,000 in that time."

The aim is to acquire and renovate the building into a multi functional facility including cinemas, a theatre, a brasserie-style restaurant, a bar and additional events spaces for hire.

Award-winning architect Guy Hollaway is the man behind the eye-catching design.

Early in 2016, TDC announced it was seeking a 'formal development partner' for West Cliff Hall and Gardens.

Three years ago, the council and Project MotorHouse jointly commissioned a surveyor's report which found not only is the steel frame of the building severely corroded and needs replacing, but the outer walls are resting on wet masonry with no other support.

How the West Cliff Hall could look under the proposals
How the West Cliff Hall could look under the proposals

This is of concern Project MotorHouse say because the building supports the main road to the harbour and the first 40 metres of the West Cliff Promenade.

Ms Fielding added: "In addition to youth work, we have spent money on lawyers, asbestos removal and propping, fixing garden walls, vat specialists, various surveys, a construction industry project managers and designs by award winning architect Guy Hollaway.

"No one, Project MotorHouse included, is going to take on that site unless TDC commit money to safeguarding the road and the promenade properly.

"It's their responsibility.

"All they are trying to do by sticking it on the disposal list is kick the problem into the long grass."

Local councillor Peter Campbell said: "Doing nothing is not an option. Either the frame has to be replaced or the site will need to be filled in."

An interior shot of what is proposed at the West Cliff Hall in Ramsgate
An interior shot of what is proposed at the West Cliff Hall in Ramsgate

Both options would cost more than £1 million because of the difficulties of the location.

In the 1970s a terrace had to be built to stop the building sliding down the cliff.

The project group will have to bid against other potential buyers for the site.

A TDC spokesman said: "Although Cabinet has approved the disposal of this asset there is currently no timescale as we are evaluating the most appropriate method of disposal.

"The council did enter into an option agreement with Project Motor House in October 2013 for a scheme which became incapable of implementation and has subsequently expired.

"Project Motor House along with any other interested parties are welcome to submit their interest once the Council has finalised the process for disposal."

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