May 2018...

The 'Save Broadstairs Cliff Railway' community interest group was setup in the mid 2000s when efforts and interest in the old funicular lift had seen to meet an end.

With the site rapidly deteriorating, the group motive was to prioritise preservation of certain assets and reinstate access to the carriage and main shaft. Meanwhile within the community, the group sought to actively promote awareness, interest, education, responsibility and collect an archive of related information, history, people, memories, photographs, documentation and ascertain the then condition of the surviving structure and assets within.

The group closely followed planning applications and Thanet District Council's asset disposal agenda throughout and confidently spoke upon the significance of the funicular lift with the importance of preserving the site assets in any future development. The group was mindful that reinstated operation and full restoration of the funicular lift would only have been viable within a redevelopment of the site into an unique tourist attraction or other means of income support.

In 2010, a new development drafted by the Broadstairs Conservation Area Advisory Group, headed by the late Jack Tullet, would have necessitated the removal of the original lower housing and complete removal of the shelter. While the group accepted the drafted plan, concerns remained for the preservation of the Edwardian pillars and other historical features. Should the drafted development have moved forward, then the group would have continued to campaign to see the restoration and re-erection of these features elsewhere, or incorporated into the new development.

Under the drafted development plans, it was intended for the funicular lift itself and the carriage beneath the lower housing to remain in place with a new entrance for access to be provided accordingly.

The drafted development was found to be unviable under the then current economic climate, with the council's preferred developers declining interest. The site then continued to be neglected (despite security hoardings erected around the lower housing) until a further asset disposal agenda was accepted by support of the public and councillors. The site including the former bathroom block and shelter went to auction for the free hold ownership in October 2017 and sold with considerable interest.

A planning application was submitted in February 2018 by the new owner and approved in May 2018. This change of use application comprises the sentimental conversion of the former late 1800s bathroom facility upon the ground floor (originally Ladies and later refitted for disability access). The conversion and restoration is to operate a coffee and icecream outlet, humbly named 'The Funicular'.

Preservation and minor refurbishment of the surviving funicular lift structure and shafts is intended by the new site owner for longer term development and minor works to stabilise and secure the remaining structure at beach level has already moved forward.

However, the considerable costs and legal challenges involved, along with practical and safety issues, will continue to prevent public access within the main shaft for the foreseeable future.

Reinstated operation ultimately is never going to be viable, with none of the remaining mechanical plant, electronics and infrastructure, surviving in a condition suitable for repair and no surviving documentation available.

The situation has been worsened by the 25+ year period of continual neglect with poor responsibility of the site by Thanet District Council and unfavoured decisions made by the planning committee since the lift was closed up in 1991.

The complete story of the funicular's demise and neglect is best heard from those that fought endlessly and passionately to maintain its operation and preserve the construction and assets when the resources to keep the service open became unviable. That said, despite the unfortunate damage to the mechanical and electric installation by extreme weather conditions in 1991, considerable physical damage was largely done by the neglect on part of Thanet District Council and the owner of 14 Albion Street.

With the group's originally intended minor works taking place on the surviving structure, which are being funded by the new site owner, the group now aims to continue promoting awareness, interest, education and will actively support the new site owner both to promote business to the new establishment, alongside related matters to the preservation of the funicular lift for the long term future.