The Long Read: Is our heritage for ransom?

Updated 03/10/20 @9:48

After a decade of neglect and uncertainty and a 5-year campaign by Friends of the Leas Pavilion (FLP), the Leas Pavilion is finally looking set to be saved from further deterioration following approval for development this week. We would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Liz Mulqueen (pictured) and the FLP committee for reaching this point and the hard work they put into fundraising and building awareness of the building’s plight.

However, many locals were not happy with the trade-off – a 9-storey luxury 91 apartment block that will not only dwarf the pavilion but knock through walls, consuming it as a grandiose foyer for the residents. Developers Kantion (Gustavia Ltd.) tell us that it is the only hope for the building; the pavilion will be hireable, thus reinstating community use. Councillor Jackie Meade felt “one of our heritage buildings is being held to ransom”. So who is right?

Whilst design is subjective, the building is undoubtedly very large. The Planning Officer, who recommended approval, says this gives “a greater sense of verticality and visual interest.” Architect Guy Hollaway called the design “a contemporary architecture which would reflect the ambition of The Grand and The Metropole” to “become a landmark of coastal architecture”. Objectors point out that the previous application’s design, whilst also disliked by many, was only 7 storeys, housing 68 flats and 2 shops. They say it is not in keeping with the Listed Building or its surrounding Conservation Area and the Brutalist mistakes of the era of radical concrete are no excuse for unsympathetic design. Or should we be honoured to have examples of the Modernist pioneers Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, architects for the Barbican Estate?

Now funnily enough, in 1965, Chamberlin, Powell & Bon put forward a drawing plan for the redevelopment of the whole of the section of the Leas, from the Leas Cliff Hall to where No 1 the Leas stands today.

A conservation architect stated that “the whole context and setting of the building will be ruined by such an overdevelopment”, thus there would be harm to both a Listed Building and the Conservation Area. Suggestions of an attempt to reinterpret the design of previous and surrounding buildings with curved bays perhaps need contemplating at 10pm after a good pub session as the modern design shares little similarity with the Victorian Leas, which the officer says is “dominated by exuberant stucco architecture” – is that a bad thing? Many feel the only good design elements are the return of the original 1902 interior and provision to house and display the excellent Leas Pavilion Archive is a welcome and generous offer.

Parking is a big issue for many. Unfortunately, local guidelines limit Town Centre developments to a maximum of 1 parking space per unit. Greener cars are accommodated with electric points for those lucky enough to get one of 65 £10,000 parking spaces and the provision of 2 electric pool cars for the 91 apartments to fight over, but overflow parking elsewhere is inevitable, when the neighbours already have a tough time parking. Hopefully we won’t get more pedestrian zone parking on The Leas as seen in Rendezvous Street every night. The car parks are functional rather than “unsightly” as the officer suggests and the gap in the street scene is less obtrusive than a 9-storey building. The loss of 57 spaces in 2 car pars plus hundreds on the seafront illustrates the lack of cohesive planning when they are already full on a Summer’s day. Do we not want visitors? The elderly and disabled will be discouraged from attending pavilion events – Pleydell Gardens is the sole car park nearby and has only 2 disabled bays (39 total). Hardly sufficient. However, resident cycle bays are a welcome addition.

Hollaway’s suggestion the building will be “fossil fuel free, utilising air source heat pumps” was dismissed by Green Party Councillor Georgina Treloar who said she can “see through that fluff”. These pumps need electricity and surely the residents would like electricity and gas in their flats?

Trees have statutory protection in a Conservation Area. The Council’s planning application form states that a tree survey may be needed, at their discretion. No tree survey was included, unlike the 2008 application – and that tree remains on-site. Why was the no box ticked? Why did Greenspace Ecological Solutions Ltd. ignore the tree in their Preliminary Ecological Report of April 2020? Why doesn’t the Council require a tree survey? What will happen to the tree? A local resident asked these questions and was told: “(The Planning Team) will look into them as part of the processing of the application, which will then be taken into consideration of the application and addressed in the eventual committee report.”

No answer was given in the report. We leave it to you to decide whether the application is a true reflection of the site.

Another hot issue was the lack of affordable housing. An independently checked Viability Assessment provided two scenarios – one suggested providing 26 apartments on the first 2 floors at a discounted “affordable” average of £240,000 each would result in a loss of nearly £1.31 million, whilst the second stated removing affordable housing would bag a profit of just under £2.44 million. Why didn’t the applicant suggest off-site affordable housing in a less prestigious location per the 2008 proposal? We are led to believe Kantion purchased Manor Court and adjoining land with planning permission for £196,000 in July, though as of today the registered owner is still Flatiron Property Maintenance. A Viability Assessment eventually excused the 2008 obligation in 2014, suggesting 5 affordable flats in Longford Terrace and a financial contribution as well as committing to “clean the façade of The Leas Club and tidy the external area generally by the end of July this year in preparation for the Centennial celebrations.” In other words, Prince Harry is coming and your building looks shabby – the extent of the Council’s concern about the building’s disrepair at that time. It seems heritage does indeed come second to impressing the wealthy. The Viability Assessment values the pavilion at £1 due to the harm caused and subsequent cost of restoration. However, it doesn’t mention the commercial income from hiring the hall. Case Officer Sue Head stated: “it doesn’t have to be a viable commercial operation” as the maintenance fee makes hire feasible, adding: “There has to be a balance between the community use and the amenities of the pavilion residents.”

previous design for the site

As Ward Councillor Laura Davison pointed out, the Metropole has hosted an arts centre, restaurant and gym. Now it has private property signs shooing the public away. Local historian Mark Hourahane spoke against the development, mentioning residents not wanting music played when he worked there. Many worry that this will eventually happen to the pavilion – it will be deemed unviable and residents paying a maintenance fee would rather keep it private. The Heads of Terms document has been widely criticised for its lacklustre approach that hints residents’ use as a foyer comes before community use, as it will only be hireable for 100 days per year, Monday to Thursday with the option of one Friday or Saturday per month and no “gigs” allowed. To ensure fairness, a Trust would be formed with a representative from

  1. the building residents,

  2. the neighbouring flats,

  3. the FLP and;

  4. the Council.

They will meet once a quarter, so all events must be booked 3 months in advance. Several Councillors were concerned about these aspects, including motion proposer Councillor David Wimble. Noise limiting to 90dB was a worry for the musicians amongst them, too. Councillor Meade suggested that they “need to look at conditions in far more detail before we agree to anything”, but the application passed with 6 votes for, 3 against and Councillors John Collier, Gary Fuller and Jim Martin abstaining. Councillors Collier and Martin then voted FOR the Listed Building Consent.

It is interesting to note that, whilst the FLP gathered much celebrity support for their campaign, three of their famous supporters lodged objections against the development:

  • “Although the first priority is to restore the Pavillion so it can be used by locals and visitors as a place for meetings and performances, a secondary concern is the surrounding new buildings. I agree with those who find the 9 storey structure unsightly and unnecessarily tall.” – Sir Ian McKellen

  • “The theatre is a listed building, which the Council should purchase & restore from Public Funds, an appeal & Lottery money, rather than betray the beauty of the town & desecrate its Edwardian symmetry. The lack of car parking for some of the flats makes the scheme absurd. Where is the Council’s sense of aesthetics & responsibility? What a disgrace.” – Miriam Margolyes

  • “I am strongly opposed to the higher building as it wasn’t what was agreed at the outset & I’m concerned about the disruption and anxiety it will cause our many vulnerable residents. Also it sets a worrying president that developers can promise one thing then change it drastically to suit them at the last minute and get away with it. Its not right it’s not British and it makes a mockery of our enviable planning systems and laws.” – Jessica Hynes

Is this development really the only option? The originally proposed lower building might still be viable, perhaps replacing the suggested pavilion gym with a multi-function space; more practical with the pavilion remaining unattached. We also note that the FLP’s fundraiser in 2016 hit its target of £4,000 in only a week, which suggests that people were always willing to donate to the cause. The goal was stretched and reached £9,690 within 2 months “which can help us secure possession of the Pavilion”. It is a shame they couldn’t achieve this. 11 backers donated between £50-£500 and were promised “your name will be listed on our donors ‘wall’ at the Pavilion”. Will the developer honour this pledge? The FLP also found a film production company, keen to have Folkestone as a base. We believe they had to settle elsewhere eventually – an understandable consequence of waiting for development to happen. However, as Folkestone is supposed to be pro-arts with both the Creative Quarter and its status as the World’s first Music Town, we feel that the pavilion could have been a successful hub for the arts and it is a shame neither the developer nor the Council seem particularly keen in leveraging such an accolade.

Likewise, heritage seems to be given scant regard by our Council, despite it being a huge tourist draw. Why didn’t they slap an Urgent Works Notice on the building in 2014, instead of merely asking Churchgate to tidy it up a bit? Why were they allowed to strip the building’s interior completely, including the removal of the boards once trodden by many actors who went on to find fame? Why did FLP have to pressure the Council before they served an Urgent Works Notice on the building? And why were they content to wait months for the permission to be granted instead of either pressuring the owner to do the repairs or seeking to compulsory purchase? Our self-proclaimed Heritage Champion, Councillor David Monk, who didn’t speak for his ward in which the building stands, told us in a September 2019 meeting that they would rather not do so as they understood a buyer was interested, who soon backed out. But FLP claimed that the developer wanted to get on with the work since February 2019 but weren’t getting the required Listed Building Consent granted – an application that is still “under consideration” today, but merely requested the removal of the veranda and wouldn’t stop other work happening. Why would the Council not want to buy a building valued at a mere £1, then go on to buy a castle, racecourse and Debenhams for in excess of £30 million?

This isn’t the only option, but perhaps the most profitable, so it is being sold to us as such. The previously mentioned conservation architect noted that “there will now be a rash of similar games played on our town’s lovely old buildings because developers will know they can get away with it”. It would seem our heritage could indeed be up for ransom.

The Shepway Vox Team

Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful


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