Thursday, 10 March 2011

TO THE BAT CAVE!

Image from http://www.margatecaves.co.uk/images/frontpage.jpg
To the bat cave! Well, not quite. To the Margate Caves! Oh wait, they’re closed. Damn. Still, at least we have the Friends of Margate Caves trying to reopen them again, eh? In a recent post on their website, it was stated that a recent FOI request has called into question the amount of money it will cost to repair the caves:

“Since January, the Council has stated various figures ranging between £100,000 and £250,000 for the costs of the works required to be able to open the caves again. FOMC used the Freedom of Information Act to request from the Council how they arrived at these figures. We have had a response which confirms that they "do not have a detailed cost estimate for the works required to comply with the recommendations of the Atkins report that described the required improvement works to the caves", however they "have been able to trace a report from the Councils chief engineer in 2005 that indicated that the works would cost in the region of £55,000, with a contingency of £5,000 for works to comply with the HSE prohibition notice". Obviously this is a long way short of the figures the Council has repeatedly been quoting to the press, and indeed used as the basis of their argument for claiming the Caves unviable.

FOMC Chair Sarah Vickery said "There's been a lot of misinformation about the Caves generated by TDC over the years, but we hope that now we have uncovered the council's own 2005 estimate for repair we can all move forward and work with the facts, rather than rumour and exaggeration."

So, apparently it’ll only cost £55k to fix the caves, after all, eh? I guess that may debunk the previously quoted £100k figure as inaccurate. But is it right to rubbish Cllr Moores’s more larger estimates as ‘rumour and exaggeration’? Not that I wish to defend the man, but Cllr Moores’s position on the caves is best exemplified by his comment on Big News Margate:

“Firstly, as a businessman, I have a personal impression of the cost of bringing the caves back into public use, as expressed on my own weblog. This takes into account not only the council’s £100,000 figure for making the caves safe but the on-going maintenance and repair costs involved in making them a viable tourist attraction, so in my unqualified opinion this figure would be closer to £150,000 - £200,000 over several years and you would have to balance this against its viability as a commercial attraction.”

This suggests to me that Cllr Moores’s £150,000 - £250,000 estimate (which the Friends of Margate Caves appear to refer to) encompasses not only the cost of repairing the caves, but also the cost of ongoing maintenance, as part what he presumably considers to be a seven-year business plan. In my view, he’s appearing to suggest that Margate Caves may not be worth repairing, as even if investment were forthcoming to repair them, they may not be able to afford their maintenance costs on a year-by-year basis, especially if its ‘viability as a commercial attraction’ is in doubt. In other words, if it ain’t gonna make a profit, it ain’t worth it, guv’nor.

Like I said, I don’t intend to defend the man. I’m merely pointing out that Cllr Moores’s estimates weren’t just related to the cost of repairs alone, as the Friends of Margate Caves seem to imply. Moores’s figures were part of his attempt to speculate, as a businessman, about how much it’d cost to run the caves in the long-term and whether they’d be a viable commercial enterprise worthy of investment in repairs. Cllr Moores, if you’re reading this, can you confirm that I am correct in my assumptions?

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean I'd agree with him. If we used that same ‘does it make a profit?’ logic on libraries, none of them would receive investment, and they’d all be shut down, wouldn’t they? In my opinion, local heritage sites like the Margate Caves deserve to stay open for posterity alone. Besides, let’s face it, if local investment is always decided upon on the basis of commercial viability, would anywhere remain open? And what does this say about our standing as a seaside tourist destination, if tourist attractions like the Margate Caves are closed on the mere presumption that it won't be commercially viable?

That being said, I welcome any progress the Friends of Margate Caves make in trying to get the caves reopened, especially if it’s marked with some degree of commercial success. It’s in everybody’s best interest to see the caves open, and to pretend otherwise is rather foolish.

5 comments:

  1. That's correct Luke.

    The 2005 report gave 'An estimate' for repairs to meet the HSE and other requirements. The lessees were unable to meet these requirements.

    What I have said a number of times, as have council officers, is that:

    1) The council was offered an estimate for essential repair work in 2005 but this is 2011 and that it would be sensible to assume that after six years the costs would be greater. Thus, the figure of circa £100,000

    2) As I wrote on my weblog, any business planning to take the caves on with the full support of the council, needs to take into account the ongoing costs of not only making the caves safe and attractive but building and maintaining any visitor centre. Clearly, a small wooden shack didn't work particularly well in the past and only a couple of hundred yards from Turner, something a little more in keeping with the times is required. That will cost money!

    3) It's irrelevant whether the original repairs estimate is £50,000, £100,000 or even £1 million. The council does not have any funds available to bring the caves back into use and thus would have to reply on a business plan from those who might wish to take it forward. In such circumstances I would offer my encouragement and support and the existing planning application for the site has been put on hold as a strong gesture of goodwill.

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  2. Hopefully now we have got to the bottom of a few things we can move forward with TDC to find a solution for the Margate Caves site. There's a good article in today's Gazette about it. http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/where/thanet/Council-admits-loose-words-entrances-caves/article-3317472-detail/article.html

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  3. If Moores and Co must judge everything, including a wooden shack, by its relationship with "Turner" (apparently the latest "in" word for the gallery formerly known as the Turner Centre and then Turner Contemporary) he might reflect that it is unlikely visitors to the caves would have to be subsidised to the tune of a Turneresque £16 a head.

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  4. he's a pompous git aint he

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  5. @ 15:12, feel free to get nominated to become a Councillor and try and maintain a business along with doing additional work in the Public sector if you think you could do better. Posting "he's a pompous git aint he" doesn't help the FOMC cause does it.

    Although I've never voted for Simon I'd like anyone to point me towards a current TDC Councillor more accessible and ready to talk to their constituents.

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