Published: 14:25, 25 March 2021
| Updated: 15:07, 25 March 2021
The long-awaited regeneration of a former arcade left derelict for years could be kick-started - after plans to offload the eyesore were revealed.
But, if the local authority-owned building and the two car parks to its rear are snapped up, Canterbury City Council admits it would lose control of the Herne Bay seafront development.
Officials originally planned to demolish the former Tivoli arcade in Central Parade and replace it - as well as the car parks behind it in Beach Street - with homes and commercial outlets.
Amid a pandemic-induced tightening of the purse strings, the multi-million-pound scheme was pushed back to April 2022 at the earliest.
But faced with the prospect of rising building costs and shelling out £40,000 to mothball the amusements, the authority wants to look for potential buyers or development partners.
A council report says: “While it was always thought the site would be challenging to develop, it is clear the inclusion of a policy-compliant level [30%] of affordable housing has an effect on the viability of the scheme, particularly in the current climate.
“It is clear the pandemic has resulted in the price of some materials rising, along with challenges relating to the labour market.
“This scheme was always planned to be a pilot rather than a profit-driven project, but it is clear its delivery now would mean that it does not cover its own costs immediately and would need further investment to be delivered directly by the council.”
The council says it would have to cover the costs of site security, potential make-safe remedial works to the existing dilapidated buildings, and business rates, if it waited until next year.
In addition, officers estimate they would need to budget up to £100,000 if the authority was to also redraw the project to “improve the viability of the scheme” over the intervening 12 months.
They instead believe that looking to sell the site – which also includes the Beach Street car parks – or for a developer to carry out the work on their behalf is the worthwhile option.
“[The latter] offers the best opportunity to deliver a development scheme on the site without further capital investment from the council,” the document adds.
“However, the appetite for such a scheme from the market is unknown. [Selling] offers the best opportunity for the council to recoup a capital investment and pass responsibility for the site onto the purchaser.”
The council bought the former arcade for £1.1 million in 2018.
Known as the Beach Street project, the scheme, which was approved the same year, involves building studios, three shops and 31 homes, of which 10 will be social housing.
But officers believe selling the plot could risk the loss of the affordable homes and commercial units from the proposals.
The report explains: “The developer is likely to revise existing planning permission and there would be no guarantee as to what any subsequent scheme might comprise or look like.”
Town centre councillor Andrew Cook says he was one of those who first put forward the idea of advertising the site to potential buyers or development partners.
“If we can find somebody to work with on it, so we can still have that element of control over what happens, that would be preferable because we do want to deliver what we have,” he said.
“That would enhance the area - we desperately need to get it going. If somebody comes up with a better idea, then that’s great as well - we’re not inflexible.”
A vote on the project will be taken by the council's regeneration committee this afternoon.