All the Fun of the Fair

18.12.09

It is the promise of the realisation of a dream – to restore the 1920s ‘Dreamland’ attraction in Margate, Kent. The Dreamland Trust, chaired by RPS Senior Planning Director, Nick Laister –working with the Princes Regeneration Trust –has secured £3.7m of funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), additional to the Heritage Lottery funding secured by the Dreamland Trust earlier in the year.

The funding is a big step towards the Trust’s £12m plans to restore the amusement park, and will facilitate the restoration of the UK’s oldest roller-coaster: the Grade II Listed Scenic Railway which was built in 1920. Nick secured the listing for it in 2002, when it entered the history books as the first British ride to be listed. The restored Scenic Railway will form the centrepiece of a new Heritage Amusement Park on the Dreamland site.

The not-for-profit Dreamland Trust was born from the Save Dreamland Campaign which launched in 2007, after the park’s final 2006 closure, and has battled faithfully to ensure the heritage of what was for many years one of Britain’s most visited attractions is preserved for future generations. The campaign was formed by local people following a 2003 announcement by Dreamland’s then owner that the site would become a retail park, and the subsequent purchase of the park by the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company in 2005.

Despite the fact that the previous owner had stripped and sold many of the park’s assets, and through the near devastating fire –which destroyed a portion of the Scenic Railway’s track and its workshop, and damaged the engine house –in 2008, the Campaign has been successful in acquiring several historic rides to furnish the planned restoration of the park, and expects Phase One works to start next year. Phase One will create the world’s first amusement park exclusively made up of historic rides. It will include the restoration of the Moderne façade of the adjacent Grade II* listed cinema (one of the UK’s first Odeon cinemas) and the cinema’s lower ground floor (which doubles as entrance to the amusement park), as well as the rebuilding of the Scenic Railway and installation of other historic rides. It will all be set in contemporary landscape gardens.

When Southport’s ‘Pleasureland’ amusement park closed in 2006, its incredible collection of historic rides, many of which are the last surviving examples of their type, were scheduled to be bulldozed in the forthcoming site clearance. The Dreamland Trust entered into discussions with RPS client Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Sefton Council to save the rides and give them a new lease of life in the proposed Dreamland restoration project.

The rides were donated, and painstakingly examined and dismantled to ensure installation in Margate will be perfect. Other rides have been acquired from Blackpool Pleasure Beach and from Ocean Beach Fun Fair in Rhyl. The rides include the 1922 man-made River Caves, the 1920s Caterpillar, the traditional Haunted Swing and the 1960 Wild Mouse –all from Southport’s Pleasureland.

The site is approximately 17 acres, and at least half of it will be home to the rides (Phase One of the project). The rest of the site will be enabling development, likely to be a mix of residential and retail. Phase Two of the Amusement Park should start in 2012 and will create a live performance and entertainment venue, including exhibition space, restaurants and shops. The project is supported by Thanet District Council, Margate Renewal Partnership, Kent County Council, SEEDA, The Arts Council and English Heritage.

Nick Laister said: “This proposal will create a striking 21st Century tourist attraction that will be a catalyst for the regeneration of Margate that will extend well beyond the seafront. The project has been singled out by the DCMS as the most exciting proposal in the 2009 Sea Change funding round, recognising that it takes its inspiration from the town’s unique seaside heritage, and for that reason has secured by far the biggest share of this year’s £9m grant funding for UK seaside regeneration projects. At RPS, we excel in bringing together often disparate organisations to unlock regeneration opportunities, and I am pleased to have been able to use these skills in what I think represents one of the best examples in the country of the voluntary, public and private sectors working together to the benefit of a local community.”

Nick is involved in a large number of seaside regeneration projects on behalf of RPS at resorts around the UK.