In 2007 The Radnor Estate sold to Churchgate Developers for £3.2m a lease of 150 years on the Leas Pavilion and surrounding land. Planning Permission is due to lapse on the 29th April 2018, so a fortnight from today.
LEASE 03/04/2008 – K939572
Page 17 and 18 of the lease, sections 3.22.1. and 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199.1. 188.8.131.52.2. and 184.108.40.206 3.22.2.and 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 and 3.22.3. and 126.96.36.199. and 3..188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206.1.1. (lots of them) all deal with and gave permission to Churchgate to dispose of No 4 Longford Terrace, the Landlords local, rat infested, pigeon loft, for Social Housing.
Also in 2007 Go Folkestone successfully applied to have The Pavilion listed with Historic England as Grade II. They had serious concerns as to its ultimate fate.
In 2008 Churchgate successfully applied for outline planning consent to build 68 flats over and to the side of The Pavilion on condition they repaired/restored it under conditions set down in a listed building consent.
Historic England wrote of their concern that the span over The Pavilion would not be high enough for maintenance and that the height should be increased. As far as is known the plans were never altered to comply. Historic England issued a listed building consent so that the repairs under the Listed Building Consent could be done. That means the building cannot be entered for work to be done without the consent document.
Another condition of the outline planning consent was to build 28 social housing units at The Firs Cheriton (absolutely no mention of 4 Longford Terrace at this stage). Anyone trotting along to The Firs during the next few years would have realised that the 28 social housing units were definitely not on Churchgate’s list of priorities as it was being further developed as a successful ongoing health club.
In the meantime nothing was done about repairing/restoring The Pavilion. Plants were seen growing inside the building, gutters were broken, the East wing began to sag, vandalisation took place and various people used its nooks and crannies to live in and get drunk.
Many people are unaware that owners of listed buildings are not legally obliged to keep them in good repair, that has to be enforced upon them by the local council if it becomes necessary. Owners know this and so do developers.
Shepway full council was asked what they were doing about enforcing the owner to do repairs and the reply was that the building was in a reasonable state and they were monitoring the situation. Monitoring is such a convenient word and reliably open to interpretation by those who would rather do nothing. Monitoring the situation entailed further neglect and a splendid award winning disregard by the developer of any instructions/requests by SDC to remedy the situation.
Some months before the date for full planning permission loomed, and no conditions as yet met, Churchgate pleaded poverty, and commissioned one of those infamous viability reports, slammed by BBC Horizon as a national disgrace which allows developers to plead poverty and wriggle out of the conditions outlined in the original application. That is, if the local council agrees. Shepway, of course agreed and as a compromise, guess what, accepted the generous trade off of 5 social housing units in No 4 Longford terrace.
Unaware of all the foregoing, people were so relieved to see No 4 Longford Terrace repaired, no-one much questioned the loss of the 28 units in Cheriton.
In one well-planned stroke, the Freeholder offloaded one of his most disgraceful properties, an eyesore for years, and Churchgate got their full planning permission on 15 April 2015. Condition – begin works within 3 years. The losers of course were the 28 families deprived of somewhere affordable to live. Who cared about them?
While all this was going on The Friends of The Leas Pavilion was formed in an endeavour to save the Pavilion. The intention – to persuade Churchgate to give them a lease that would enable them to apply for Heritage money to fully restore the building and bring it in to community use. They also gained funding for an independent condition report on the building that revealed its true dilapidated state.
Shepway then ordered Churchgate to undertake works to allow the Pavilion to “dry out”. Dover Demolition were the firm employed by Churchgate, who stripped out carpets, billiard tables, and all the fittings. Anything removed from a listed building that entails restoration should be photographed and recorded and stored for future use/reference; however SDC failed to do this.
Churchgate, always ahead of “the game”, as it was once described by them in the media, would have been very aware that the Listed Building Consent had run out and they were all breaking the law. By the time SDC caught up with the situation the damage was done and Churchgate now have a building with its architecture still in place but an empty shell to do just what they like with. At the time of writing the Listed Building Consent has still not been renewed.
Having done their worst, Churchgate have once more disappeared into the woodwork, are practically non-contactable and with no sign of a lease being granted to The Friends to enable them to restore the building.
There have always been grumbling rumours that the Leaseholder would like to pull down the building to enable them to turn it into the underground car park for their flats. That would mean revised plans, probably enabling more units to be put in (more profit). People will no doubt form their own views on this. The whole business is now heading for crunch time as consent runs out this month, and Churchgate have now run out of time to start any work, given the pre-conditions attached to the planning consent.
Churchgate do do love a cliffhanger and another is undoubtedly heading this way. What will FHDC do, confronted by a developer who paid £3 million for his lease and a freeholder with land ownership over a great deal of Folkestone who appears, over the years, to have little or no interest in his property and its preservation. To date FHDC have done very little to halt Churchgate and prevent the Pavillion from falling down. They hold all the power to prevent this from happening, so must ask WHY?
Churchgate can still gift a lease to The Friends who will restore the building to its former beauty and who have demonstrated they have a viable and flexible future use for it as a Centre that could serve the community as an educational and social centre, along side a commercial enterprise that the building is well suited to and will pay for the long term upkeep of the building.
There are those of course who have been saying for years that the building cannot have a viable future. Times have changed and that statement is not proven one way or the other. The Friends have a viable and sustainable use for it and there is no reason, other than convenience for the developer and his landlord, to say it would not be successful.
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The Shepwayvox Team