A Margate ward councillor says a Time Out article naming Cliftonville as the 8th coolest neighbourhood in the world yesterday (October 11) painted an image that omitted the realities of poverty, out of reach housing due to gentrification and displacement of residents struggling to survive.
Labour’s Helen Whitehead, who is shadow cabinet member for housing, says she loves Cliftonville but her caseload reflects a very different area to the one of ‘great coffee’ and “offbeat attractions,” depicted, instead comprising some 40 cases of housing issues, mostly due to section 21 evictions, and people being placed in temporary accommodation out of area.
The Time Out article celebrated the tourism aspects of the area and the growth of new businesses, particularly along Northdown Road, but Cllr Whitehead says she fears the overly rosy picture ignores the fact that many local residents cannot even afford basic living costs never mind attractions.
She said: “I’ve always loved Cliftonville. I’ve lived in Thanet since I was eight. That’s 33 years, on and off, of seeing Thanet in many different forms, across many highs and many lows.
“I’ve spent 15 years of my life in Cliftonville; have brought up my son here, adopted (too) many cats here, and have seen countless regeneration arguments grow and diminish and grow again.
“I’ve seen regeneration turn into gentrification. I’m not knocking regeneration, or any of the businesses or ventures mentioned in the Time Out article, or Walpole Bay or Cliftonville in general.
“I just want people to stop and think about what reductive narratives do to the realities that we’re facing.
“Regeneration should provide a future for everyone. Gentrification doesn’t. And the world described in the Time Out article excludes the reality of most of the residents I work with.
“Housing here isn’t affordable for most. It’s in a state of hyperinflation, with constant displacement.
“Local Housing Allowance for a 3 bed house in Thanet is £797.81 per month. 3 bed properties in Thanet now routinely exceed £1,200 a month. Local Housing Allowance is supposed to make the bottom 30% of housing accessible.
“A search today brings up no properties available at that price, and only 5 properties under £1,200 a month; and one at £2,750 a month; a rental rate that would have been unheard of even a year ago.”
Cliftonville West, which has a population of just under 11,000, is ranked 4 out of 32,844 areas in England for deprivation, 1 is the most deprived and 32,844 the least.
The ward ranks as one of the lowest for income, employment, education and training with high rates of poor health, disability and crime.
Although annual data for children considered to be living in poverty no longer goes down to ward level, the 2018 statistics (last available at ward level) showed Cliftonville West as the hardest hit ward with 1,513 youngsters in poverty (after housing costs), equating to more than 52%. Next highest was Margate Central with 747 children in poverty, equating to 46.70% and then Newington with 777 children in poverty, equalling 46.96%.
A report published by Kent County Council in May this year (using data from 2020) also lists Cliftonville West ward as having the highest proportion of fuel poor households in the county with almost 1 in every 5 being in fuel poverty.
However, it is an area of contrasts where there are also a number of businesses flourishing in Northdown Road and nearby areas, from the established such as Dalby Cafe and the Walpole Bay Hotel to the new such as Self & Sea therapy and Tiarrah Pizza Bar. There are attractions bringing in visitors, such as Margate Caves and the Shell Grotto, two escape room businesses and, until it was closed in August, Margate Winter Gardens.
There are also properties snapped up by people coming into Thanet from more expensive areas and a proliferation of Air BnB and holiday let accommodation has sprung up – encouraging tourism but stifling residential availability for families. The area also has a large number of Houses of Multiple Occupation which see a high turnover of residents.
Cllr Whitehead said: “The removal of the reality of so much of our community here has made me, and what I do every day, feel like some kind of decorative fringe; an incidental, something that gives a theatre set a bit of authenticity. But the reality is that this fringe is fraying and disappearing, day by day, because those of us who grew up in the Thanet economy, and have often been defined by it, simply can’t afford the cost of the new world that is summed up in a couple of paragraphs.
“Regeneration, at the heart of it, is about wealth. Property developers know this; Councils know this; society knows this. It’s why art-washing exists as a concept and a reality. It’s rare for regeneration to effectively include and genuinely improve the lives of everyone within a community. There is so, so much more to Thanet, and Cliftonville and Margate especially, and to not acknowledge all of that story is to worsen inequalities and communication rather than address them.
“If we emphasise only the tourism aspect of our area, and thereby encourage only short term rentals, we remove those who are most vulnerable simply by pricing residents out of the housing market. That’s not regeneration. It’s displacement.
“If we pretend that we are not one of the most deprived areas in the country, with huge issues in terms of funding for even basic services, and little to no funding from central government for even the essential requirements we have, we write out a huge part of our story as a community.
“The story of most of Cliftonville is not one of comfort and sustainability. Eventually one of two things will happen, and both will have the same end point.
“We will either continue with reductive lifestyle narratives that emphasise “affordable” property, while Council Officers within housing struggle to find any genuinely affordable housing, and the initial narrative will become true; because everyone who relies on Local Housing Allowance, or is on a low wage, is displaced.
“Or we recognise as an area that simplistic narratives that encourage a move towards property solely as investment or tourism usage damages the community that we value, and make active efforts to turn this into regeneration, not gentrification.
“I love that people love Thanet. But for it to remain our home, for it to make sustainable progress, rather than simply economic progress, we need to stop looking at this as an either/or situation. Cliftonville can be cool, and still need huge support and investment.”
Well written article. Cllr Whitehead clearly has her finger on the pulse and cares about the area and the people in it. Nice to see Councillors like Helen and Cllr Rob Yates actively supporting the community.
Wholeheartedly agree and from someone who has her feet on the ground
Very much so. Wish she represented my area.
We have to create new real jobs and work opportunities. Developers are not going to come in any number to build new cheap houses for rent, nor sale for that matter. There is no magic formula. It is all very well talking about regeneration but where is the money going to come from? Tracey Emin is doing great work initiating projects in the area. We need much more however and winging about the surprising Time Out article won’t help.
yes it is well written , but lets be honest that rating is absolute nonsense , and people that actually live in thanet know that only too well . its this ” arts ” nonsense that is trying to polish a turd as usual
Fill an area with enough people who have , poor education , few skills, benefit dependent etc etc and you can do little but create a deprived area. Cliftonville was never such a place in the past but was allowed to become one by continually dumping lifes least fortunate there. It could be argued that the redevelopment and gentrification of the area helps rebalance the mix of the local community whilst simultaneously making it less deprived.
So in some respects it’s not all bad news. As for the “time out “ rating , apparently it was based on a 20,000 sample and cliftonville rated 8th out of 10. Those that voted may feel its cool, but it was voted for by an infinitesimally small number of people and as such little more than a statistical fluke.
Fingers crossed the arts economy that we’ve thrown everything at is sustainable in harder times and the area comtinues to improve.
If I’d have said it I would’ve been accused of being a negative “boomer”… couldn’t agree more with her comments though.
I’d suggest you try and meet the councillor , well outside the norm on the bell curve . A bit like Corbyn -ideologically driven , totally believes the “cause”, but a tad detached from reality and quite happy to ignore/ evade legislation to pursue their goal. Chooses to ignore communication when it doesn’t coincide with their view. Doesn’t make them a bad person, however is fighting for a very small minority worth the negative effects on the majority? ( a whole scales of justice question).
NB i lived in cliftonville for a good while and left because of some of those for whom the councillor is a champion.
Unfortunately, this is much the norm. When I lived in Westbrook, the current TDC leader was one of my two cllrs. When I emailed her about the dumped rubbish – including an old mattress – that had been festering in the alley way near the station for weeks, she never even responded (to be fair, the other cllr – Mick Tomlinson – did reply, and went to see the rubbish for himself, which he then got removed).
You’ve seen the endless refuse articles and debates on here in relation to cliftonville, the comical bit is if you go down Harold road there are several buildings that have their own paladin bins on the pavement , but the residents in the road seem quite content with the situation.
TDC make great efforts to keep the area clean , lord knows how much it costs per household in comparison to the rest of thanet, but it’s never enough for a few vocal groups. Squaring the circle of irresponsible residents ,the wants of the responsible and provision of services is nigh on impossible in the absence of unlimited funds. There are currently suggestions that the bins in athelstan road should be moved across the road to by the Lido wall, never going to happen, danger of crossing the road, people just dumping where the bins are now anyway, obstructing the pavement etc etc.
The people of Cliftonville might be poverty stricken but at least we’re cool.
You’ll be freezing in the winter.
Looking, unfortunately, through ‘rose tinted blinkers’.
Cool areas generally mean edgy, a term previously applied to Hackney, Hoxton, Brixton and Notting Hill all with high crime and social issues -but on the up- that last bit is the key thing here- thankfully the area has moved on from the “Kosoville” slur from the early 2000,s but the replacement of investment by arty types are not as well received, yet a huge improvement for the area. We gave to face reality. Those buildings of multiple occupation are never going to return to be boarding houses again. That ship has sailed. We should welcome the arty types- that’s a wide umbrella covering new media, graphic designers as well as painting and pottery -with the coffee shops, eateries and general business which it brings in. The alternative is ex- cons, Galway homes for drug addicts, refugees etc etc. a very good article though from Helen.
One of the few Councillors/arty luvvies who live in reality, rather than their fantasy world.
It is a really well-written article, free of the ‘new speak’ of mainstream politics. Very much agree with everything Cllr Whitehead says.
I thoroughly agree with this. Locals are being displaced by those coming from up the line. They might think it is gentrification, but in face it is squeezing the locals out, but I think that is what they desire, judging by the names I have heard locals called – Thanet peasants and Thanet Hobos seem to be their favourites.
There’s a reason the loop is colloquially known locally as the “peasant wagon”.
I must of missed it ,need to open eyes,
Well written article that illustrates the reality of life for many in Cliftonville. An area which experiences the impact of health inequalities more noticeably than the rest of Kent.
I don’t see what is wrong with the area being gentrified. All manners of improvement and regeneration projects have failed over the years and now we have people and businesses moving in from out of the area, doing up old properties, spending money and starting businesses.
Say what you want about the “arts crowd” and DFLs but they have done more to improve Margate and Cliftonville than the local council have done for decades.
That’s great but I think your missing part of the point locals are being displaced due to the arty farty brigade and the dfl’s.
And that happens in every part of the world where a location suddenly becomes more attractive for people moving and living there.
Why is Cliftonville any different ?
The issue of the cost of renting in cliftonville ( and thanet as a whole) is largely a result of thanet losing it’s “poor relative” tag and finally catching up with the other parts of the south east. Whilst notionally reinstating the 30th percentile for benefit claimants seems the obvious solution, it should be remembered that LHA effectively sets the base from which rents are set. So uplift the LHA rates by the 30% or so they lag local rents and it is very likely to mean many who have rents currently under this level will have their rents increased.
This seems to have been accepted and the temporary fix of grants to local authorities to deal with homelessness and its prevention. Leaving TDC to decide how it allocatesthe 3 odd million it received recently.
However that doesn’t address the lack of housing, the anti private sector stance the country has taken along with taxation policy that has actively encouraged short term holiday lets has meant that the stock of private rented property has decreased. The area has also attracted many who want to move here from outside the area.
All these factors mean that remaining landlords are better able to cherry pick the best tenants, leaving those who for whatever reason can’t find a property to rent seeking help from the council.
Surely it was envisaged that the improving fortunes of cliftonville in particular and thanet as a whole would result in some people being displaced? Another spinoff of the problem is that the council is very selective as to which private rented properties it deals with in respect of poor standards, as they don’t want to be responsible for re housing tenants left homeless as a result of the councils enforcement action. Apparently buildings converted into flats which are sold off on leases and the freeholder then vanishing pose a particular problem in terms of the legal options to deal with disrepair and who finances any work.
As ever the current situation is the result of decades of different decisions and policies which have now come to prominence, it would be interesting to have some figures from TDC in how much it spends on the problem and where it goes, also figures on how many people are placed into thanet by other local authorities.
The old christchurch university building by Asda has been bought and there have been adverts for rooms to rent in what could end up being a huge HMO type operation, which might offer some relief on housing pressures. Perhaps the council should look into doing a deal, fairly modern facilities , central location, might be a temporary solution.
Great article. Nothing wrong with an “art-driven” strategy if only because there is very little else that could grow in the area.
Not mass tourism any more. There is little demand for major industrial processes in the UK as a whole.
We have reached a point in which all of people’s basic needs re shelter, food and clothing can be met by international production. (Of course, much of this is unaffordable because of the grossly unequal distribution of wealth).
But what could we produce in Thanet that somebody else can’t produce faster, cheaper and better?
At least “art” can go on being produced and will always be unique and always in demand (by somebody, somewhere!)
Unfortunately, the government AND main opposition, are stuck with the idea that we have to have “growth” to improve our lot in life. But what is the point of “growth” if all it produces is yet another coffee shop, or T-shirt, or a different light-fitting? We have lots of these things anyway.
If we just restricted ourselves to what we need, with the occasional bit of what we fancy, we might find that we don’t need all this growth. But we would then need to spread out the wealth to make sure nobody gets left behind with less and less.
I think that Thanet has ended up as a place that has been bypassed and left without a purpose. But we need to be able to regenerate areas without inventing some kind of purpose or “growth” when ,as I say, all that we need has already been invented and is being produced elsewhere.
Any survey is only as ‘good’ as the surveyor. The key words in the Time Out project, I believe, are ‘cool’ and ‘to visit’.
Regarding ‘cool’, it probably relates to one person’s opinion, whose survey questions then probably reflect his or her likes and prejudices.
‘To visit’ doesn’t mean the judgement / survey will reflect what it’s like to live there. From the other locations on the list, it seems clear that the writer / owner of the mini-project likes an ‘edgy’ atmosphere and some fairly unique attractions. The full article mentions the Shell Grotto, Margate Caves, Walpole Bay Hotel and the sea-water swimming pool, also the Dalby Cafe. You won’t find these in most seaside spots.
Yes – Cliftonville is not what it was (Nowhere is). Yes – the area has its problems. You can’t keep a wheelie-bin in an upper-storey bedsit, so rubbish can mount up outside. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and there have been recent actions to keep the streets much cleaner.
Can I suggest that we put aside what it was and try instead to encourage and support what it could be. There’s an old song that stresses “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…”. However sad one might feel about any negatives, the Time Out publicity stresses some positives about Cliftonville. Let’s all celebrate those positives, instill some pride in what we have, rather than regrets for what has been lost forever.
That pride might then translate into a collective energy to make Cliftonville, Margate, Thanet, an even better place. We have much to be thankful for in this area we call home. Let’s all start there and accept we all have a responsibility to make and keep our home as nice as it can be.
I love the house I live in, despite its many small imperfections. They will all get fixed ‘in time’, but the length of that time will reflect priorities, available finance and mostly my own motivation for change / improvement. The same principles apply to Thanet as a whole. Let’s get ourselves ‘right’, then get the place right.
I wonder if the person who wrote the article attempted to walk solo from Aldi along Northdown Road to these places at night? I know many females who will not travel alone at night along Northdown Road due to being accosted.