Thanet council agrees nil rent lease of High Street property to EKC for Margate Digital project

The Margate Digital plan Image Lee Evans Partnership LLP

By Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Esson

A multi-million-pound makeover of a former Marks & Spencer in Margate has moved a step closer.

The East Kent College (EKC) Group wants to transform the building previously occupied by the department store in High Street, Margate, into a state-of-the-art campus.

Thanet District Council bosses argue the project – which will be bankrolled by £6.3 million of government Levelling Up cash and match funding from EKC – will help regenerate the town centre.

But senior politicians had to decide last month whether to pave the way for the scheme, called Margate Digital, by giving a no-rent lease for the building to EKC.

Papers penned by local authority officers ahead of the cabinet meeting said: “The building provides an opportunity to utilise one of an assets to support a number of regeneration initiatives in Margate, and in particular one of the most deprived wards in the country.

“This project aims to improve skills and education provision in the area, support the repurposing of key buildings in the town centre, and encourage pathways into the creative industries.

“The council is not in the position to deliver an education campus.

“The only option is to provide EKC with a lease so it can deliver the scheme it put forward for the Levelling Up programme, which was awarded the grant funding.”

Officials also noted that not agreeing to hand the lease over would have left TDC and EKC with just one option– returning the funding to government.

Margate Digital is expected to cater for up to 300 students and staff. The state-of-the-art campus will be equipped with a café and studio space.

Labour councillor Helen Whitehead, the shadow cabinet member for housing, questioned whether staffing conditions had been factored in to the rental agreement.

“As a 10-year nil-cost lease is being proposed, as well as a subletting clause, can I ask if the employment aims of the Levelling Up fund have been incorporated into the terms of the lease?” she asked the cabinet.

She wanted these to include conditions “such as permanent contracts for employees, guarantee of a real living wage for employees, or apprenticeships within their business models”.

TDC director of regeneration Louise Askew responded: “As it stands, there isn’t anything about conditions about salaries, living wage or anything like that around employers, but it’s certainly something that we can look at.”

The prominent unit previously housed Marks & Spencer, which closed for good in 2006.

The district council later bought the building, which backs onto Cecil Square, for £4.5 million.

It was most recently home to discount clothing chain Store Twenty One until the firm bowed out of the town about five years ago after entering liquidation.

The lease was returned to the council. TDC has marketed the building both for lease and sale, but it has attracted no long-term interest.

Cabinet members voted to prepare and complete the lease transfer to EKC. The scheme was granted planning permission in August this year.

Margate Digital Campus will be EKC’s seventh site in east Kent – with others already in Dover, Broadstairs, Canterbury, Folkestone and Sheppey.

Permission granted for multi-million pound Margate Digital campus


    • Hopefully, with an increase in footfall within the town I’m sure the surrounding businesses will benefit as well.

  1. 6.3 million of our taxes and they pay nothing onto our economy for 10 years.

    Can other companies and independent shop claim this nil rent ?

    • 300 people all needing to eat, drink, buy things? an increase in footfall guaranteed, I’d be rubbing my hands and looking at ways I can tempt them to spend their money in my business.

        • Clearly the high streets of yesterday are long gone and little hope of them coming back as they were with the internet and large scale out of town shopping centres which have pulled people away from them and caused businesses to close, town centres need to diversify, or they will decline further.

        • Peter problem for anyone doing a stand alone business like a greengrocers is the overheads then you come down to products these have to be fresh and this means a long day for owners getting stock fresh means travel to get it if you wait for suppliers to deliver its midday approx most have got there’s if they buy daily, and wastage nobody will want wilting greens, and then most people don’t like walking from shop to shop when they can get all at the supermarket.

          • My uncle owned a couple of Greengrocers in Garlinge and Westgate during the 80s, and we usually got our deliveries no later than 9 am (the suppliers would come direct from overnight London markets or local farms). Maybe it’s changed since then…

      • Wasn’t just talking about businesses in the immediate vicinity. What about other businesses elsewhere in Thanet who pay rent to the Council and full business rates ? If you’re talking about Margate High Street, yes I’m sure KFC will do very well out of it.

        • EKC is a Further Education provider, the majority of its funding will come from the Government who are paying for students to be taught courses, that’s our tax money, I’d rather it be ploughed into educating people than used to pay rent and full business rates.

  2. Let’s hope that EKC can make a success of this project. I personally am all in favour for something that will give the next generation a skill and decent start in life. Regretfully the anti brigade will see no personal benefit to themselves so will diss this facility.

    On a separate issue. Please can TDC and EKC unblock the windows and doors from this building looking into Cecil Square. Looking at the blank wall at ground level is not a particularly good site to see sitting next to the bank.

  3. Why did TDC pay 25% over the value of the building , closing the deal in haste when there was no hurry, another dodgy deal ?

  4. Winter Gardens break up begins…
    “Transfer to enable the re-purposing and recycling of 700 collapsible chairs from the Winter Gardens, Margate, to the Granville Cinema, Ramsgate.”

  5. Wow, there are some people who really don’t get it here.

    EKC is an education organisation. How many schools do any of you know that pay ‘business rates’? So why would a further education college?

    As someone else has said in this thread, I would far rather my tax money went towards paying people to train, so they have the skills needed by local businesses.

    • That’s all very well, but the college has a potential income of 2.7 million a year, being given the property for free is one thing ,for that period to be 10 years is rather generous from a council that’s skint. Are there details of who’s responsible for insurance and maintenance?
      It rather looks as though ( in the absence of a sale) Dreamland won’t be opening next year, for anything much at all. How much has TDC spent on Dreamland over the years in its desparate attempts to make progress, only to end up much poorer and with nothing to show for its efforts and no control over the site ( other than a rather dubious , no developmemt clause)

  6. I’ll say it again, shut Cecil Square to traffic and turn it into small shops cafes etc and a weekly market , this can be done with a little imagination. Just use the one road in front of the old post office as a bus route.

    • ABC. Better still left at the tower along sea front right at cassino right at end down northdown Rd to morrison’s car park area, this would avoid the tight turn at roundabout and steppish Hill at roundabout and truck would need a lot more energy to get up hill from standing start and would avoid old post office as well, that would be best way to go.

        • Peter you said lorries! Lorries cannot get down Trinity from sea front safely impossible to go up as well I’ve travelled on a bus up and down Trinity Square many times we drove partially on the pavement to the surgery and beyond it was bad enough turning at the top of the road, no lorry would use that road if the driver had sense they would take a about a minute longer driving and go up past the old cassino and Aldi’s it would be logical and safer, but anyway it’s not really going to happen unless it’s due to a blocked square for whatever reason.

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