Gale's View (November 25th 2009)
Margate is embarking upon a sea change. Whisper it softly but months of painstaking work by the elected leadership of Thanet District Council and some highly dedicated officers is beginning to pay off.
Mealy mouthed political critics will, no doubt, seek every which way to try to avoid giving credit where credit is due and it is most certainly true that what has been achieved to date would not have been brought about without the rock hard support of Kent County Council and SEEDA and, in the case of the Heritage Amusement Park project, without the determination of the Dreamland Trust and the co-operation of the site's owners and developers. The spadework has, though, been done by TDC and we should recognise that and say so.
It has been a long, hard, haul and we are only at the start of what is very likely to be a process of physical regeneration - another piece in the jigsaw that is the Margate Waterfront Development - that is going to take several years to complete. The funding to kick-start the refurbishment of the Dreamland park and cinema complex should not, though, be under-estimated or sold short.
True, the £3.7 million pounds of grant under the government's Sea Change scheme, announced by Minister Margaret Hodge when she visited Margate recently, is only a small part of what the whole scheme will cost but it is enough to get the project moving off the starting blocks and we should be pleased that this need has been so clearly recognised in an economic climate that can most charitably be described as "challenging".
The Dreamland scheme, in tandem with the re-furbishment of the Arlington complex, will be the counterbalance at the western end of the town to the Turner Centre and associated development at the eastern end of the main sands through to the Lido.
The Turner Centre itself is coming on apace, on budget and on schedule and the "topping out" ceremony will mark another milestone along the road to the completion of a venture that the faint-hearted would not get off the ground. Those that whined that KCC managed to recoup "only" £6 million of the money initially invested in the abortive first design fail to recognise the regenerative effect that the Centre has already had on Margate Old Town and that it will continue to have upon Cliftonville West. It will be a while yet before the ripple effect of the gallery and the visitors that it will attract begin to impact beneficially upon the lower High Street but I am confident that, for all the unwelcome dereliction caused by the shift to out-of-town shopping that is around us today, that improvement will take place.
We cannot, though, pause for more than a moment to consider what has been achieved to date. We need the assistance of the KCC as the Highways Authority to re-align the station roundabout and so to release the land needed for the development of an aquarium adjacent to the main sands. We need to give urgent re-consideration to the possibility of re-locating the lifeboat house and to create a Lifeboat Visitor Centre and Lifeguard station in the centre of the Marine parade. The development of a small marina cannot be shelved as a possibility and we have to attract very significant investment in a Turner hotel, in the Winter Gardens and in the Lido.
Margate on a wet winter's afternoon is not, at present, the most glamorous location in the world. If the momentum that has been generated is maintained, however, then it is very possible that in years to come we shall have created a twelve month of the year destination location to rival the very best. We need to believe in it and we can make it happen.