If, as I think is likely, Sands Heritage Limited (SHL) are unable to resolve their financial problems, then Thanet Council should exercise its options under the Dreamland lease agreement to take back the site from the operator. The Council should then conduct an urgent and fundamental review of its strategy and plans for the site, bringing in expertise from outside to advise and assist. Such a review should not be the typical “top down” “we know best” Thanet Council approach but should also involve the local community and local businesses, who will all directly and indirectly benefit from having a thriving and successful Dreamland.
But thriving and successful it’s not. Clearly visitor numbers have been far below Thanet Council’s and SHL’s expectations and that’s why SHL is in very serious financial trouble. I agree that the non-delivery of a functioning Scenic Railway until four months after the opening of Dreamland was a monumental mess up by Thanet Council, but that’s not enough to explain Dreamland’s failure. The failure is because Dreamland is too small; there’s simply not enough to see and do and it is appallingly bad value for money. These weaknesses were clear from the beginning, but TDC and its senior officers and political (Labour) leadership pushed ahead with opening the park at break neck speed, regardless of the warnings about the risks they were running. What we got as a result of this stupidity was too little too soon, a wave disappointment, and subsequent failure.
My view is that Dreamland should never have been opened in phases, but all at once with a fully completed amusement park, the Sunshine Café and Cinema all up and running together and with a single operator, ideally a not-for-profit charitable trust, managing the three elements as an inter-dependent whole. This would have offered visitors a much larger and varied destination which would been more attractive than what we currently have. Thanet Council now has the opportunity to do exactly this. It can take back the failing amusement park from SHL, rethink its business plan and strategy for Dreamland whilst working on the refurbishment of the Sunshine Café and Cinema. On completion of these works Thanet Council can then relaunch a bigger, more attractive Dreamland than we now have which will offer much better value for money to its visitors.
One final thought is whether the original concept of restoring and promoting Dreamland in the guise of a 1950s theme park was a good idea. Whilst the 50s are undoubtedly an important aspect of Dreamland, I’m now inclined to argue that instead of focusing on the past Dreamland should also be embracing the future and incorporating new technologies such as virtual reality and robotics into the mix and perhaps using some of the space on, or adjacent to the site, to build a state of the art skate park for young people.The failure of Dreamland operator SHL whilst a sad, but not unexpected, turn of events could, if managed properly, provide opportunities to develop something new, more exciting and vibrant, than what’s there now which will have a better potential to succeed and help to regenerate Thanet.
PS please have a look at the Margate Architecture blogsite. There is a link to it on this page. Louise Oldfield has made some very interesting comments about Dreamland with which I totally agree.