I’m off to give a BBC South-east news interview on the Margate Caves this morning and rather than encouraging readers to visit other weblogs with their own and occasionally bizarre interpretation of the facts, I’ll share the accurate rather than imaginary detail with you here rather than look-up my comments from the earlier post on the subject.
The Margate 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 similar problems for untold numbers of legacy sites across the country. At that time the owners of the business on 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 and more recently those relating to vandalism. 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, (on-going maintenance costs over a period of time with the caves open to the public may be as much again) which in the current financial climate is simply not a viable option. Until Thanet’s economy can support the funds required to carry out this essential repairs work, the council is simply not in a position to re-open the Caves at this time.
There is absolutely no intention to dispose of the caves. The planning application for nearby houses, which is now held in abeyance as consultation continues, 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 the council would welcome and encourage this.
So to recap. Nothing is happening at present with the planning application for houses as the council continues to receive letters and representations from the public. The caves entrance has been subjected to sustained vandalism and the attention of drug users and reportedly other groups with what I would personally describe as a morbid interest in the underground environment. As a result the council has taken steps to seal the entrance to prevent any further damage or trespass.
As a consequence of the economy, Thanet District Council has to find £1.8 million of savings in its budget for the coming financial year alone. We have a number of splendid legacy buildings across the island which are also in need of attention and regular maintenance and the costs of providing such runs into millions. Margate Caves may be considered one of many worthy causes in difficult times and I hope the opportunity will arrive in the future to see them re-opened as a tourist attraction and to the standards required by HSE and DDA legislation.
Finally, uninformed suggestions I read elsewhere that money for the caves could be diverted from other equally hard-pressed local services or indeed council employees salaries or redundancy payments range from the risble, illegal and unworkable.