On Friday (24 Jan) I visited Margate as part of my Planning brief to meet local traders and customers, along with local councillors, in order to discuss the importance of supporting local high streets and regenerating town centres. I have been working with local councils, businesses, organisations and communities to better understand the problems being faced by local communities like Margate and the issues that matter to them.
As part of the visit, I was shown round Margate’s seafront, old town and the Dreamland site with Council Leader Clive Hart and Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for South Thanet Will Scobie. My visit also included a discussion with the Margate Town Team and local council on re-invigorating Margate High Street for the benefit of local people and visitors alike.
It was great to see the regeneration work that has taken place in the town in the last decade and to look at how other towns throughout the country can learn from Margate’s successes. I was really encouraged by the forward thinking of the local council and Town Team and their exciting future plans to further improve the town.
Both the importance of improving the town centre for the local community as well as the key role regeneration plays in attracting tourism and visitors to the town cannot be emphasised enough. This is why Labour has set up a High Streets Advisory Group, which I am proud to be part of, to look specifically at issues affecting local high streets and town centres such as Margate, including business rates and empty shops.
A number of things struck me while visiting Margate that I will feed into our next High Streets Advisory Group meeting.
Firstly, it is important to understand how long the process of regeneration takes. There is a definite need to develop a more long term, strategic approach to High Street regeneration. It is vital to bear in mind that it isn’t just individual buildings and new developments that we need to get right- we need to plan for the whole street and wider neighbourhood.
Crucially, if the ideas of the community are on board then I think we are much more likely to get consent for the developments, which has been missing from a lot of the discussions. The role of local authorities in all of this needs further consideration.
Secondly, lots of issues were raised about the level of business rates especially in areas like Margate that need to regenerate after years of struggle and now have an acute need to support and grow local independent shops. Several innovative solutions, including pop up markets and shop-shares, have helped new and smaller local businesses in Margate and we can learn from this, but more support is needed.
Thirdly, there is clearly a problem of absent or uncooperative landlords and councils and local authorities need more powers to deal with empty and rundown buildings. This would empower communities to shape their own local high streets and town centres.
Fourthly, planning delays were identified as a major issue by many of the local people I spoke to during my visit.
I really enjoyed my visit to Margate and I want to thank all those who helped make it so interesting and those who contributed to the discussions, particularly local council leader Clive Hart and PPC Will Scobie.