Gale`s View 12th January 2011
I hope, and genuinely believe, that 2011 will see the turning point in the fortunes of Margate in particular and Thanet in general as a tourist destination.
The opening of the Turner Centre in April will not, and cannot be expected to, trigger an overnight reversal in the decline of the seaside resort as a holiday venue. It has to be regarded, though, as the cornerstone of a programme of recovery that will see derelict shops and sites brought back into good, attractive and profitable use and, as the word spreads, I believe that we shall see a very significant increase in the number of visitors with money spend in search of boutiques, hotels, restaurants and public houses in which to spend it.
Much revitalisation has already commenced and has quite properly been led by private investment. The nature of the new businesses in the old town and in other locations reflects a recognition of a changed clientele and of a potential new demand and has taken considerable faith and courage. We, elected politicians at every level of government, have to seek to ensure that all of the opportunities open to entrepreneurs are nurtured and encouraged and that every possible assistance is given to those willing to invest in the future of Thanet.
Nationally, we know that we face a period of austerity before the disastrous financial situation that the coalition government has inherited is reversed but that does not mean that we cannot cut away the red tape that has bedevilled small business, smooth the planning path through changes in law and give freedom to local government to take bold decision swiftly.
At County level money may be tight and the complete pedestrianisation of Margate seafront has to remain, for the moment, an aspiration. I believe, though, that County Hall could and should immediately facilitate the redesign of the station roundabout and the release of the seafront site needed for the location of an aquarium. County must also press ahead with a determination to see the re-development of the waterfront area between the Turner Centre and the Lido pursued with vigour. A hotel, a new lifeboat house, commercial, retail and residential development are all needed and the potential for the redevelopment of the Winter Gardens and the Lido remains, even in times of hardship, colossal.
Thanet District Council, under the Leadership of Bob Bayford, faces huge financial challenges as government spending restrictions bite and with an already low council tax income base. Working closely with County and National Government, however, the opportunity remains for the council to help to deliver, for example, the redevelopment and refurbishment of the Arlington House site, the restoration, through compulsory purchase if necessary, of buildings and sites adjacent to the Turner centre and the generation of renewal progress towards a new future for Dreamland.
The present financial climate has made none of these tasks easier but we cannot allow austerity to be used as an excuse for inertia and inactivity. The Turner centre will open on time. It will succeed and we have to seize the moment and build upon the foundation that has been laid. We shall rightly not be forgiven if we fail.