Although I love pubs and drinking good beer and although I desperately want to see the Pavilion restored to something approaching its former glory, I have my doubts about transforming the Pavilion into a hostelry of gargantuan proportions and worry about its economic impact on the other pubs in town.Despite all the talk of recovery, the pub industry is still struggling. According to research by real ale campaign group Camara, pubs are closing at the rate of 28 per week. Opening a behemoth of a boozer selling cheap beer and food (not that I have a problem with cheap beer and food), is very likely to be last straw for many of Ramsgate’s struggling pubs, some of which will be forced to close due to competition from Weatherspoon’s. The jobs destroyed will very likely outnumber those created by the new seafront super-pub.
But it doesn’t end there. Our local pubs play an important role in keeping Thanet’s economy moving. They use their profits to buy supplies from local companies, to hire local entertainers and local tradespeople for repairs and refurbishments. Weatherspoons, on the other hand, source their food, beers and maintenance work from large companies outside of Thanet. So opening a massive Weatherspoon’s on Ramsgate seafront will actually reduce the amount of money circulating in the local economy which could have serious knock-on effects for local business.
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My preferred choice is for the Pavilion to be used as a location for shops, restaurants, cafes, SMALL bars, entertainment and exhibitions. A bustling public building which can be used by everyone. We could even re-locate Ramsgate Town Council to the Pavilion saving some of the £50,000pa it currently pays in rent for its offices at the Custom House.
A multi-functional building such as this would fit comfortably with alternative plans for the Pleasurama site which, hopefully, the Council will have taken back from failed developers, SFP Ventures, by next year. It would also link into the opening of the Ramsgate Tunnels, the redevelopment of the former Motor Museum and proposed investment in improving the Royal Harbour. A revitalised multi-purpose Pavilion would, in my opinion, be a cornerstone in the long-overdue seafront regeneration of Ramsgate. Not wanting to sound like snob, cos I’m not, but a mega pub is too demeaning a role for a grand old lady like the Pavilion to play. This is after all a building of such importance that it has been placed on the Victorian Society’s list of Top-Ten Endangered Buildings in 2013. Surely she deserves more respect than being a mere boozer?
Unfortunately the stumbling block to a bright and sustainable future for the Pavilion is the small question of the £3million required to restore the building! Excuse me but here’s where my blood begins to f***ing boil! In my opinion the current leaseholder, the Rank Organisation, has vandalised the Pavilion almost to the point of committing a major heritage crime! Over the years they have hacked the guts out of the building leaving a bombsite behind them which will cost more than £3million to put right.To their shame, Thanet Council, its senior officers and politicians have colluded with Rank’s destruction of one of our major iconic and historic buildings. In its usual incompetent style TDC totally failed to take prompt and decisive action against Rank as it destroyed the Pavilion bit by bit and broke every rule in its lease. At a meeting last year, Mark Seed the director responsible for the Pavilion told me that because the Council had, over several years, consistently failed to apply the repair conditions of the lease a court would not look kindly on Thanet suddenly getting tough with Rank. This may or may not be true. I personally believe its worth trying to bring these vandals to book and force them to put right the damage they have caused to Ramsgate’s.
However, I am reliably informed that rather than making amends Rank is desperately trying to get out its lease and its repair responsibilities. Instead of fessing up to its destruction of the Pavilion and paying the price, it is allegedly putting unfair pressure on Thanet Council to accept Weatherspoons as the next tenant of the Pavilion. In exchange for lease of more 100 years, Weatherspoons will then reportedly fund some of the restoration costs of the Pavilion. If the deal is not done then I have been advised by my sources that Rank will hand the keys leaving the Council holding a £3million baby! TDCs response has been to oversee a lease assignation process which has allegedly been the polar opposite to the “open and transparent” process which had been promised by the Labour Cabinet last year. I understand that those dealing with the lease may have been forced to re-run the process over again because it was allegedly flawed and unfair and could have been challenged. Even now there are complaints that the lease assignation process is tainted by improper dodginess. This is hardly surprising when its borne in mind that last year the Cabinet member with responsibility for the Pavilion, Councillor Rick Everitt, authorised the release of press statement which was seen by many as a personal attack on a member of the public who had the temerity to question probity of the disposal process.So what’s the answer? Well in in my opinion rather than hand the Pavilion over to Weatherspoons for the next 100 years, the Council (or a charitable trust) should take the Pavilion back off Rank and try force a contribution towards the cost of the repairs. In the meantime, applications should be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other charitable organisations and sponsors to restore and rehabilitate the Pavilion to its former glory. The Council could then lease spaces within the building to local businesses to run cafes, restaurants, bars and shops and entertainments. This would produce a sustainable building which will be a driving force in the regeneration of Ramsgate.
This is not a new idea, look at the restoration of Hastings Pier, the De la Warre Pavilion in Bexhill, the Beany in Canterbury and of course the restoration of Dreamland in Margate. If restoration of assets to their original use is good enough for Canterbury, Hastings, Bexhill and Margate why must Ramsgate be forced yet again for second best by having its most iconic seafront building turned into a boozer rather than a beacon of civic pride?