Negotiations are underway for Thanet council to take on the lease of a Ramsgate High Street property – with the former Argos and former New Look sites mentioned in a Cabinet report – to be converted into creative studios, a café/bar, gallery and arts retail space.
Thanet council Cabinet members agreed earlier this month to move forward with the plans using money from a £2.7million Future High Street Fund grant which was granted in 2020 and secured in May 2021.
The funding was awarded to provide more workspace in the town centre for creative industries, bringing empty buildings back into use, and to improve the highway, including accessibility from the Harbour into Harbour Street.
Proposals were initially for Thanet council to take the lease for Celandine Hall in Harbour Street but there were delays. The property, whose owners had received Heritage Action Zone funding for property renovations, was subsequently leased to The Modern Boulangerie which has expanded from its Westcliff Road shop and is due to open next month.
Thanet council has now submitted a revised project outline to government and is negotiating terms for the new site.
Discussions over the site were carried out in a private session due to commercial sensitivity but a report about the plans highlights the empty former Argos and former New Look stores which have both been shut for around four years.
The plan is to provide around 96 workspaces for use by individuals and businesses in the creative industries sector,
The report says the site will also provide a central point for creative and cultural enterprise, education, training and community engagement.
Since negotiations fell for Celandine Hall Thanet council says: “During the intervening period, the market has changed and Ramsgate town centre has experienced an increase in private sector investment, including in the historic Harbour Street area.
“However, investment has not been consistent for the entirety of the High Street.”
A Ramsgate Town Centre study undertaken by Oneday Regen in May 2022 and included in the Cabinet report, identified that: ‘The exceptions [to Ramsgate’s progress in lettings across the high street] being the largest units, in particular New Look and Argos. With the decline in the chain retail market and current leases in place with the former tenants these units are likely to remain vacant unless the council intervenes… uses should be considered to address the shortage of alternative uses such as culture and leisure.’”
The Future High Street Fund was announced in December 2018. Thanet council submitted an expression of interest in 2019. In 2020 Thanet council was awarded funding for two schemes in Ramsgate – a Highway scheme and workspace provision. In 2021 the £2.7m scheme was approved by council.
Thanet council says: “The council had been working hard to identify new sites in order to deliver this project. This was in order to fully utilise the project funding. A change private sector investment in Ramsgate had provided some challenges to the project, although there (is) still great demand for creative workspace provision.
Cabinet agreed to authorise the Director of Regeneration to complete negotiations for the site in the High Street and enter into a sub-lease until March 2027.