High Street Task Force report says town’s road and path network creates ‘barrier’ to transforming Margate

A Task Force report says Margate's road and path network creates a barrier for visitors accessing all areas Photo Steven Collis

Margate should improve its road and footpath network to bring together the Old Town and ‘new’ areas, says the government’s High Street Task Force.

In a report compiled after a visit to the town in October, it is suggested that a lack of connectivity between the Old Town and other areas is creating a barrier to transforming Margate.

The report also says there needs to be a rise in income and employment and moves to reduce the shop vacancy rates in the town.

The Task Force expert Graham Galpin said more emphasis is needed on events that continue after peak season – with the Wild in Art trail mentioned as a good example -and better communication with businesses is advised.

The report says there should be a better digital presence for the high street and groups with an interest in the town – such as community or business forums – should come together.

Mr Galpin puts forward the advice following the Unlocking Your Place Potential diagnostic visit.

Turner Contemporary Photo Frank Leppard

The biggest barrier, he says, is the way roads and pathways are laid out, meaning visitors have to negotiate a busy carriageway to get from the Old Town to attractions such as Turner Contemporary.

The report says: “We believe Margate needs expert advice on potential ways and means for improving the pedestrian flow and enhancing personal safety. This should involve planners to advise on the development of potential route maps for pedestrians and motorists.

“It is clear that the increased interest in the Old Town has shifted towards the New Town, but comes to an abrupt stop where people cannot cross the road easily. By removing this barrier, it will open up the continuity of both parts of town and give better access to the Turner Contemporary.

“This should assist in scaling up cultural employment and earnings in both the New and Old Town. Stronger partnerships between council, businesses and the wider community will also build more capacity for making change in the town.

“A more coordinated approach will ensure more impact from the investment and interventions, whether they are initially led by the public, private or voluntary sector. It was very clear from our meeting that there is a huge amount of enthusiasm and support for the town from both the councils and business leaders. More frequent and open communication is needed, particularly to include businesses in the dialogues.”

Photo Steven Collis

The report also highlighted Margate’s strengths which include architectural heritage, visitor attractions, a strong array of independents in the Old Town and Northdown Road, a nationally recognised cultural offer with Turner Contemporary and championing from  internationally known artist Tracey Emin.

Other strengths mentioned were beaches, a history as a seaside resort, Dreamland, strong community and events and the £22.2m of funding for Margate as part of the Government’s Town Deal programme which will see  the planned upgrading of connectivity and boosting of the creative industry and jobs. Thanet council is also making improvements through its Welcome Back Fund.

 Report recommendations:

  • Arrange to receive an expert from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) to liaise with Thanet District Council and Kent Highways. The expert will review the present network and advise on how to overcome the challenges facing the town and feedback from the visit. This is timely as the Council and Margate Town Deal Board are developing their business case for the Active Movement and Connections project within the Margate Town Deal.
  • Bring the various town centre groups together to form a united Town Centre Partnership which works collaboratively with the local authority, so that communication is improved.
  • Increase the number of events to encourage more people into the town centre.
  • Improve local trader’s access to an interactive website to encourage them to advertise their wares and services online and, where necessary, trade online.

The visit and expert report are part of a package of support that Margate will continue to receive after it was selected by the Government in April as one of 70 places to work directly with the High Streets Task Force.

During Mr Galpin’s visit he led a three-hour workshop, learnt about plans to transform the town, in particular the Margate Town Deal, and met with senior representatives from the local authority, Cabinet member Cllr Reece Pugh, shadow Cabinet member Cllr Helen Whitehead, leading officers from Thanet District Council and Kent County Council, and local business owners.

Cabinet member for economic development and deputy council leader Cllr Pugh said:”It was a real coup to have someone like Graham Galpin share his insights, experiences and recommendations in the context of what is happening to high streets across the country.

“I would like to thank everyone who took the time to share the challenges faced in the reopening of the high streets post-lockdowns and where we can focus our efforts to help and have the most impact.

“I want all of Thanet’s town centres to be vibrant and thriving. This report, in addition to other regeneration work such as the Margate Town Deal and the Levelling Up Fund, will enhance our plans so they are best placed to serve the community now and in the future. In the run up to Christmas, I would encourage everyone to go out and enjoy the shops and support our wonderful independent stores in Margate and across the district.”

Margate Old Town Photo Frank Leppard

The Task Force will continue to work with Margate through the coming months and there will be a follow-up in January to scope out what practical support and service will be provided to the council to support the town’s transformation.

The full report for Margate can be read here.

If you would like to be added to the high streets mailing list contact highstreets@thanet.gov.uk.

Margate Town Deal projects chosen for funding from £22.2 million pot