Just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend, Council Leader, Sandy Ezekiel answers readers questions on the future of Margate High Street:
Q: It has been said that the purchase of the empty Marks and Spencer building by TDC and the provision of even more retail space on the ground floor, will lead to transformation of the area. Those that remain of the small and medium sized shops in the High Street are deserting it, leaving a huge number of, unattractive, boarded up, almost derelict and ‘un-lettable’ retail floor spaces.
Where does the Council think the 'new' retailers needed to fill the 'new' M&S site, and all of the empty High Street shops, and all of the empty shops in the Old Town Area, are coming from, when the surrounding shops are derelict and boarded up?
Does Cllr Ezekiel accept that there is a price to pay for Westwood Cross. Isn't there too much retail capacity in Thanet, and shouldn't we be finding some other uses, at least for the lower high street?
A: "It’s all too easy to look at Margate High Street and say “it’s finished”.
The easy option would be just to look at getting shops to fill the existing premises and in the short term, that’s what the Council and its regeneration partners will be seeking to do, but we’ve got to be realistic. We’ve all heard the same story from retailers. They keep telling us that they want modern retailing space and that’s the future for Margate. That’s what we’ve got to provide for them to ensure a long term future for our town and that’s what I want and what I’m sure everyone wants to see.
Yes, we have empty units in Margate at the moment. This has arisen out of a combination of leases coming up for renewal at the same time as the uncertainly over the future of Marks and Spencer building, which is one of the anchor premises in the town. That’s why we’ve purchased it. By creating modern retail space in the heart of Margate, there is every prospect that retailers will be attracted back into the town centre.
You’ve only got to look at any modern retail shop to understand what sort of thing they’re looking for. They want relatively open floor space and that’s not what’s on offer in Margate at the moment. That’s what we need to change.
It’s an interesting comment that there’s too much retail capacity in Thanet at the moment. In that case, why would leading high street names like PC World, Argos Extra and Homebase be building modern new premises in the area? They obviously don’t feel that there’s too much retail capacity here and these companies do their homework.
And why are these companies building new premises, rather than moving into existing ones? Because that’s retailers want.
Equally there are many modern retailers who want to be located in town centres. That’s where people are based after all and more and more homes are being built back in town centres, rather than on green field sites, and that’s part of our plan for Margate – to encourage more people to live in the town centre, providing more potential customers for shops, restaurants and cafés.
Let’s not forget that there’s been a lot of good work already done in Margate in the Old Town. There are new businesses opening all the time – three in the last few weeks. It’s becoming home to individual niche market retailers and we want to encourage that all along Margate High Street. The café society we want to encourage is now appearing and growing all the time. It’s such a difference from how the Old Town was a few years ago. There are now reasons to go there and I hope everyone will support our fledging creative quarter. It’s a beautiful area with some wonderful shops and excellent restaurants and should be on everyone’s list to visit. "