In this week’s first “Ask Sandy” I put two of your questions to Thanet District Council Leader, Sandy Ezekiel and he’s now replied with his answers to them. Next week I’ll choose another question, so keep them coming and my thanks to Sandy for finding the time to respond to our readers’ concerns so promptly.
Margate Sands 1
Q: What is the present thinking for the regeneration of a Margate High Street which is crumbling into decay at an alarming rate and is in stark contrast with the efforts being made to develop a café society atmosphere in the Old Town area?
A: As you may already be aware, Thanet District Council has acquired the former Marks and Spencer building in the High Street. The plan is to create modern retail space, which we know that shops want, as part of a mixed use development. That may also include offices and perhaps workshops, as well as residential units. This is key to the revival of Margate. We need to bring people back to live in the town centre. We have already seen this happen with the apartments being created in Marine Gardens.
That’s part of the process that Ramsgate went through a few years ago. Remember a time when shops were shutting in that high street and people thought it was the end of the town? Look it now. It’s thriving and full of shops, with a café culture growing up alongside it. That was the result of bold investment in the town and bringing people back to live in the centre. Margate can do exactly the same and I firmly believe it will.
While we’re on the subject, I know a lot of people have strong views on Westwood Cross, but let’s be clear – it’s doing exactly what it’s meant to do and is keeping shopping local. We understand that shops in Canterbury have seen a drop in their figures of around 20% since Westwood Cross opened last summer. That’s 20% more money staying in Thanet’s economy, instead of seeping out into Canterbury and in addition, we know that Westwood Cross is bringing people in from across East Kent and beyond, bringing more money into Thanet. The opening of Westwood Cross not only brought a number of new high street names to Thanet, such as Next and TK Maxx, but it’s also helped to ensure that we have kept other major names.
Marks and Spencer for example. The company have recently announced plans to close some of their other stores in Kent – one of those is in Folkestone. That leaves them without a Marks and Spencer. We have a flagship store in Westwood Cross, which is superior to many others in the county.
Q: As we enter the summer season with little more than a Big Wheel with dubious planning authority, sitting in ‘Godden’s Gap’ what are the short term plans for Dreamland as a tourist attraction this summer? Is there a point of ‘No return’ for the site as a viable tourist attraction?
A: I think we need to make one thing clear here – this is a privately owned site. The Council does not own Dreamland, as many people seem to believe. We understand that there will be a fun fair during the summer months on the site and for the next two years, so talk of the site no longer being viable as a tourist attraction is premature to say the least.
The Council has agreed a policy for Dreamland which we hope will allow the site to be used to its full potential over the next few years. The policy supports an amusement park on the site, but if someone can prove that is not viable – and the policy sets out a number of tests and requirements to go through - then the policy suggests that the site’s main use should be for leisure. We want to see something that benefits Margate and indeed all of Thanet all year round and that’s what we’re working towards.
Away from Dreamland, let’s not forget that the Council is investing in events to benefit Margate. The Kent Air Show Margate saw the town full of visitors last year, with the Main Sands packed and hotels benefiting from the thousands of visitors that the event attracted to the area. The Council is also funding the Jazz Festival in July, Margate Carnival in August and has given money to Margate Town Partnership to series of events, so there’s plenty to look forward to in Margate this summer.