Empty shops blighting the High Street – and a development plan suggestion for dealing with them

The closed Argos store in Ramsgate

As Wilko announces it is going into administration with 400 shops and 12,000 jobs under threat, the likelihood is another empty unit in Ramsgate town and at Westwood.

Ramsgate is already suffering from unused shops in the town where large retailers, such as New Look and Argos, have exited large and prominent properties.

In recent years the exodus has included J C Rooks – now occupied by Hidden Treasures – Sports Direct/USC, destined for smaller retail and flats, Paynes grocers and HSBC bank, which Sugar Rush hopes to move to due to planned development at its current site.

Further back and the exodus includes Woolworth, River Island, Thomas Cook, Blockbusters, Wimpy and so many more businesses large and small, while at Westwood names such as Debenhams, Top Shop, Monsoon, Five Guys, Carphone Warehouse and more disappeared.

The same picture can be drawn for Margate which also lost big stores such as Woolworth and M&S amongst others.

More to come?

Wilko is bringing in administrators

Nick Drewe, retail expert and founder of online discount platform Wethrift, is predicting more brand closures to come.

He said: “Today’s news regarding the collapse of Wilko is, unfortunately, another example of the many retailers falling victim to the ongoing cost of living crisis and economic uncertainty.

“Consumers facing the repercussions of rising interest rates, energy prices and a lack of salary increases, means that the pressure to secure the very best prices and deals on everyday products is now greater than ever.

“Following the collapse of Woolworths in 2009, many turned to Wilkos as an alternative for sourcing a huge range of items or goods, at a reasonable price. From pick-and-mix sweets and pet food, to cleaning products and even homewares, Wilkos has arguably become a staple of the British high street over the past two decades.

“Unfortunately, despite the fact that Wilko’s has historically offered its customers competitive prices, chains such as B&M, Home Bargains and The Range seem to have overtaken in terms of popularity, availability of stock, and become the ‘go-to’ stores for bargain hunters.

“With the collapse of Joules, Made.com, Cath Kidston, Paperchase and many other well-known brands during the past year, it certainly seems as though Wilko won’t be the last victim of these trying times before the year is over.”

Development Plan

A Ramsgate Development Plan compiled for Thanet council in 2021 says the shift of big retailers from Ramsgate (although the same is applicable for Margate but seems to have less impact in Broadstairs) is a problem that needs to be addressed.

It says: “The shift of big retailers to edge of town locations meant there is excess retail capacity in the town centre. There are arguably now too many shops given the amount of spending that is taking place.

“Structural changes to the retail sector and the low socio-economic demographic of the local population have resulted in town centre vacancy rates which are higher than the national average. Vacancy rates are an average of 23.4%.

“Several large retail units have been standing empty for years. Predominantly fixed at high rents and with high business rates, they are unaffordable for independent businesses and social enterprises.

“Their dilapidated condition now requires significant investment.

New Look in Ramsgate is another chain now gone from the High Street

“Ramsgate has a growing low price, retail offering, aimed at a population with higher-than-average unemployment rates and low disposable income, making the town centre less attractive to visitors. “It does however still have a major post office,  major banks and building societies, butchers, green grocers, pharmacies, newsagents as well as many cafes, both independents and national chains.

“Ramsgate town centre supports over 240 businesses which employ approximately 2000 people. The corridor from Harbour Street up to the top of High Street (Chatham Street junction) consists of 96 commercial units.

“(At the time of the report) there were 15 empty units either for sale or to let which amounts to 15.6% empty units. If we consider only the pedestrianised part of High and Harbour Street, the percentage is even higher at 64 units in total with 12 currently empty which amounts to 18.7% of empty premises.

“Maintaining a pleasant environment has been problematic, with litter, graffiti and antisocial behaviour being constant problems. The main multi storey car park though under lease to the District Council is very poorly maintained and off-putting to visitors.”

Looking at solutions

Ramsgate town Photo Jim Brady

The report says a solution is to restructure and redefine the town, suggesting a combination of residential, live-work accommodation and community hubs to sit alongside a mix of national and independent retail provision and workspaces, and services to help the whole community thrive. It points to a growing creative industries sector primarily made up of small or sole traders as one avenue to explore.

It suggests for Ramsgate focusing on Harbour Street and the pedestrianised areas of the High Street, King Street and Queen Street to connect the regenerated harbourside and seafront to the town.

The proposal says buying up or leasing a corridor of key empty and derelict properties running through the town centre, (possibly via a Property Trust) could then be put to social/ commercial use, such as:

  • art centres/studios/live galleries
  • wellbeing centres focusing on the nutritional health of young families and older population.
  • a large indoor event space which would hold regular live entertainment and events to inspire.
  • a recycling workshop / repair café to help young and unemployed people build skills and gain confidence to move into further education, apprenticeships, and other career opportunities.
  • The scheme would include flats above ground floor level to provide housing (particularly for single people), retain residential space in the town centre and provide revenue for the project.

The report suggests: “A programme of land and site assembly through acquisition and compulsory purchase of key sites – including those with long term vacancies and those of strategic significance – should be used to restructure the retail offer, creating managed workspaces, improved retail units attractive to independent retailers and social enterprises.

“Creating a fund to support the development of two or more significant opportunity sites in the town would allow us to bring forward quality residential accommodation and allow for other private sector investment.

“The provision of workspace would attract inward investors, particularly those that require good access to London via high-speed services, allowing them to engage directly with the network of businesses already in the district and the wider creative industries.”

Levelling Up

Some of the suggestions in the report are in the early stages of being carried out under the £19.8m Levelling Up Fund allocation for Ramsgate and the High Street Fund.

These include Thanet council’s imminent purchase of the former haberdashery shop in Broad Street which is earmarked to provide 96 work spaces for small, creative businesses and a skills and careers centre. There are also plans for a highway scheme which will make improved connections between the town and harbour.

An artist’s impression of how the haberdashery building could be used

Residential development has also been taking place in the town with flats and smaller retail units planned for 60-68 High Street and 1 to 11 George Street – which comprised of the Pilgrims Hospice shop, Sugar Rush, formerly Cats in Crisis and Simply Danish furniture shop; flats and retail in Queen Street (formerly Sports Direct/USC). Housing has already been established in King Street with more to come at the former Dave Fox Motorcycles unit and flats due for completion at the former Swiss Cottage pub.

Similar, although less extensive, plans exist for Margate, such as the conversion of the  British Heart Foundation site into small retail unts and apartments and the recently opened temporary accommodation at Foy House.

Currently Ramsgate is listed by Completely Retail as having 11 shops up for rent and one for sale. These include the former Argos and HSBC.

Completely Retail only lists one property in Margate town and none for Broadstairs town although the Funicular bar and café at Viking Bay is listed.

A proliferation of small businesses have also opened across the isle taking on some vacant buildings. These include Chuck & Blade, Brew coffee shop, Glam Event Hire, Plan Burrito and, across Thanet, Chunky burgers, Boogie Barber, The Souvlaki, Smoked Street Kitchen and Bar and more.

Help us to continue bringing you Thanet news with a donation towards our running costs https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=YF7BH2EF4UG2N


  1. I gave up reading when I got to the “art centres/studios/live galleries” bit. This is all just “smoke and mirrors”, and does NOT in truth revive High Streets, as we’ve seen in Margate. Indeed, town in East Kent that seem to be thriving, such as Broadstairs and Deal, are almost totally lacking in such pretentious twaddle.

    • My number one suggestion? FREE PARKING!!

      Like it or not, most people use cars, and this is always the one big advantage that out of town retail parks have over High Streets. Councils need to scrap all parking fees, and look at it as an investment… oh, and ensure that (a) the toilets are open (& clean), and (b) that security removes all vagrants and beggers from pavements (two other retail park advantages!).

      • … and car parks should be kept clean and safe. Who in their right mind would leave a car in the main multi-story car parks of Ramsgate and Margate? Not me!

          • Well Ms Pink, should Manston airport re-open nothing will stop Ramsgate turning into a ghost town with dirty old cargo aircraft flying in over the harbour and town at less than 300 meters high! I know what I am talking about some years ago I used to do a street collection for an animal charity outside Wilko, on a Saturday morning. Because Manston was closed it was used for training, the so called “Tip Run” whereby aircraft would fly in over the harbour, the High Street, over Ellington Park, and Nethercourt, from 300 meters high to just 100meters, before landing.

            When this happened it caused fear and anger to shoppers in Ramsgate, as the aircraft flew up Ramsgate High Street, because they could not be seen approaching over the Harbour! The noise was unbearable, and people screamed in shock and fear as the aircraft flew over without warning! If Manston re-opens this will occur every day, and drive both shoppers, and tourist out, would you want to stay in a hotel with screaming 4 engined jet aircraft a matter of a few hundred feet away? Well both Thanet chocolate tea pot MP’s are promoting Manston re-opening, the traitors!

      • lower rates in the town centre to the amount the bigger shops pay per square foot including parking spaces or vice versa

  2. This is all down to laziness of today’s generations by buying online using there cards instead of cash no though to those people who are losing their jobs and livelihoods for themselves and their families and going around in their cars instead of using public transport to get about maybe they should change there shopping habits and shop locally in margate Ramsgate broadstairs and village shops who’s next Morrisons and Iceland etc.

    • Brian,
      You cannot force people to use the high street which has limited choice and in many ways not price competitive.
      I cannot understand your obsession with cash. You can use cash or a card in all shops. Today I used my card to donate to a charity collection outside Waitrose. All outlets provide a choice, cash or card.

    • I have huge sympathy for the entire residents of the Isle of Thanet. There are many factors, the West Kent Boys club in Maidstone, where East Kent is looked on with distain ( according to the Labour KCC Councillor for Margate he says only rubbish sites in East are up for closure), an ineffective MP in the North. Even the Prime Minister admitted to removing money from elsewhere to fund Royal Tunbridge Wells. I also have to agree, as soon as I see at the top of the list (above) more art facilities mentioned I too turn off. I haven’t even started!!

      • You been to Tunbridge Wells lately? There are more boarded up shops than in Margate and Ramsgate put together.

  3. Very little mention of exorbitant rents for many of these shops. Buying property in town centres is seen as a good investment for those with lots of spare cash. So many retail businesses have an insurmountable burden in paying rising rents to the landowners who have little interest in the fortunes of the tenants. If one shop closes, it doesn’t matter as somebody else will come along and anyway , the land will rise in value even in relatively unattractive locations.
    It’s called “rentier capitalism ” a late stage in the system where individuals with no interest in manufacture, distribution or retail just live off their income from the people who are still doing useful things. Eventually it all collapses. As it did in 2008 when the rest of the population had to sacrifice their quality of life for years to pay off debts incurred by poor investments.
    Now the process is being repeated.

    • And Westwood set up by stealth as the Secretary of State denied the development of an out of town shopping centre. This was in the 1990’s the model was already failing towns throughout the country. Now a collapsing capitalist profit centre that has completely challenged our infrastructure and surrounding areas and become a developers wet dream. All that is left of this once beautiful isle is the coast and that’s full of sh!t courtesy of the Tory privatisation of utlities. Shareholders before consumers and the environment.

          • Broadstairs thriving? The kebab, pizza takeaways or the ever changing hands restaurants?
            Then the charity shops and estate agents not to mention the micro pubs/bars.
            A few ‘twee shops’ opened by bored rich Londoners for something to do – You can’t actually buy anything in Broadstairs you would have to go to Westwood.
            I cant speak for Birch but that just seems to be the new ‘Gods waiting room’ of Thanet.

    • Westwood is struggling, for most there the end is nigh due to greedy landlords and overheads.

      • “You can’t actually buy anything in Broadstairs,you would have to go to Westwood”.What on earth are you talking about?

  4. Rents and overheads are far too high to be able to compete with online retailers – Like it or not, if you can buy something £10 cheaper online and delivered to your door anyone in their right mind would – No bus or car, no parking problem/charges and able to stay home and cook dinner with the food that was ordered online from the supermarket.
    High Street shops are finished, what to do with them is the problem and all those poor people that relied on them for a job, who knows how the hell they are going to cope.
    The only fix I can think of is an online purchase tax to bring it all back on the level?

    • High Street supermarkets and takeaways will always survive.People need to buy milk, 🍞
      etc and the Great Unwashed need their daily fix of saturated fat and salty processed garbage.

  5. If the council didn’t charge so much rent and business taxes then people will open shops , but one thing is certain a brown envelope will be passed around and property developers will build more flats .

    • The council don’t own many properties to “charge too much rent” and the council doesn’t charge rates as they are are set and handed over to central government, reduction in rates will mean other things not funded !

  6. Free parking for one hour, 50% off business rates tax for the first two years of trading. No rent for the first 6 months for any business taking over an empty unit. Advertising to show the benefits of choosing Ramsgate to trade. Re: Open the weekly Market in Ramsgate high street charging stall holders standard fee £40 per stall holder.

    • “50% off business rates tax for the first two years of trading”

      What are you going to cut to fund this ?

    • You’ve got “free” parking at both Waitrose and Asda (in the town centre), and “free” parking at Aldi and Home Basics (a few minutes walk outside the centre).
      Yes, you’d have to make a nominal purchase to justify your “free” parking. But, if you’ve come to town to shop, that’s no big deal.
      Alternatively, you could catch the bus (the Loop is brilliant) or use a taxi.

  7. I have not read this report in detail but there have been similar reports.I would not turn up your noses as at an arts led recovery as it can be a partial solution.
    It has worked elsewhere.
    Westwood cross is a partial cause and free parking won’t make a difference in fact it will only make congestion an issue in our high streets online is an issue but that is fading in the face of a blast of deflationary policy making re:high interest rates.
    It is a perfect storm of complacency poor planning policy and a lack of action.
    It does mean smaller town centres with small cheap to let units,to encourage new retail offers.
    Deal and Whitstable are holding their own,but even they are not immune from empty units.
    I am not sure Broadstairs and Birchington are doing OK,just better at the moment than Margate and Ramsgate.I would not crow too much.

  8. just face the facts , this place is finished , no one can come here to shop for obvious reasons , no one will come here for a holiday , take this art nonsense out f the equation and what are you lft with ? the one hope is manston airport and they want to stop that as well . there are people that have even earmarked the harbour for more houses – no thanks

    • The “airport” has been closed for nearly 10 years.
      Since then, unemployment in Thanet has fallen, and the hospitality and tourism sectors have blossomed.

      • “Unemployment in Thanet has fallen” hahaha
        You been reading those Tory manipulated stats again Andrew?
        The hospitality & tourism you mention is outsiders coming in and setting up AirBnBs/holiday home investments and killing off local communities and serving all the locals with Section 21 eviction notices – That’s really great for the aera ‘Not’
        Stand up, look around – see the reality- or you could stay sat down and believe that everything is perfect due to the “airport being” closed for nearly 10 years.

    • Government will want what they are owed and the council will have to find the rest if they want to undercharge people !

  9. What about using one of those empty units to create a cinema in Ramsgate now that they’ve all disappeared! Run properly, an independent cinema can thrive.

  10. Real world. What is your problem with art? Are crayons to hard to hold? Have a day off. Visit a gallery, walk along the beach, eat an ice cream. You think an airport is the answer? Move under the flight path of Heathrow or Gatwick. Enjoy life.

  11. Everything has gone downhill since Manston Airport closed the Savoy hotel in Grange Road Ramsgate used to be used by the pilots, look at the state of it now. When the idiot management run down the airport to close it it employed 150 staff directly but there was another 537 people serving the airport needs and requirements. Proverb: Those who are small minded will never think big.

    • The “idiot management” that you claim ran down the airport had on its team the guy who now has ambition to be CEO of a reopened airport.
      Doesn’t bode well.

  12. Everything has gone downhill since Manston Airport closed the Savoy hotel in Grange Road Ramsgate used to be used by the pilots, look at the state of it now. When the idiot management run down the airport to close it it employed 150 staff directly but there was another 537 people serving the airport needs and requirements. Proverb: Those who are small minded will never think big. Unfortunately we have more than our fair share of that sort.

    • Bill
      Your last sentence is correct. People like to live in the past and see things through rose tinted glasses.
      These people believe a company run by a struck of solicitor as the saviour of manston but ignore the facts. When the facts are asked the supporters refuse to answer them.
      I know Bill wont answer them but here goes !

      How is manston going to under cut the fuel grid price of aviation fuel ?

      When is the infrastructure going to be improved ? Who is expanding the thanet way and M2 ? What is the time scale for a rail haulage depot at manston ? What is the time scale for the electric barges ?

      Why is manston going to succeed this time after going bust the last 4 times it’s been I private hands ? Who is going to invest 500million ?

      I know Bill wont answer these questions as he hasnt got the answers

      Anyway back to the empty shops. Sadly the towns look tired, to many people drinking, and drugs, loud pubs with drinkers outside. Shops on harbour parade take up 90% of the available pathway it’s like an assault course. Makes it difficult to get passed. The ice cream shop is a joke, must have about 10 signs on the path.

  13. Margate and Ramsgate town centres are less than inviting, with horrible pavements, poorly maintained shop fronts, weeds and dirt collecting in unused corners, parking on yellow lines , and to many charity shops .
    What we need is the council to say this shop is a butcher that shop is a grocer that is clothes etc . And the owners should be more enthusiastic and create a welcome atmosphere such as a barbers with a while you wait coffee tv lounge instead of an old “ doctors waiting room “. Things can be different with a bit of imagination.
    Oh of course Cecil Suare or most of it shoul become pedestrian precinct with smart tidy clean coffee shops/ tearooms etc and a weekly market.

  14. Badly managed high street by a council that is completely not capable. What is happening on Margate high st? Margate digital? Where is the town deal money ? Now they want to spend money on a white elephant Cecil Sq. Why is nobody realising that TDC and the current cabinet are completely incompetent. The council and its officers don’t have a clue ,expertise or knowledge to deliver improvements to high st. Sadly we are doomed!

  15. Whatever happened to M&S/Store 21 in Margate High Street ? £750,000 was spent by the Town Deal Board on ‘making good’ a couple of years back and the property remains an unattractive empty disgrace. BHS/Primark resembles the proverbial pair of kippers – not for eating just for banking. Dr Barnardo should be informed.

  16. Ms. Pink is spot on with her opinions. Ramsgate has been raped by Westwood X . Our planners allowed every shed to be built after declaring it was not going to be for Retail businesses . There was never a plan for Ramsgate town to survive. The large empty closed shops like New Look are still liable to pay full business rates . It would have been fair and reasonable to have compensated the town businesses and told them to change to residential ; with grant aid ; but that would have required a little fairness and logic. Every penny of any levelling up cash always goes to the harbour area as nobody gives a toss about the town .

    • Bring back a market to Ramsgate,look around the country where there are markets in town centres,and they are thriving,

  17. Confused, get your facts right before writing on here you have the right name. I can give you a complete list of who run what at Manston Airport. Jenny Dawes and her sad followers are in for a surprise because Manston Airport is going to reopen. Mark my words.

  18. Bill

    Are you going to answer the points I raised ?

    Even if it opens I’ll give it a few years

    What exactly is being run at manston ? Theres a helicopter ride company, and the detention centre. What else ?

      • Bill proved my point by not answering my questions lolololol I wonder why they are so scared to enter a debate and answer the points raised

        So Bill you say I should get my facts, fine tell me why my facts are wrong please

  19. Many other towns and communities saying the same or similar. We’re all domed Capt. Mainwaring, We’re all domed. Messrs. Gale and Mackinlay doing a grad job at their end. Hats off to them 👏

  20. What’s the story of the 60s Balcony Restaurant plonked on top of Argos … seemed to be a forgotten time capsule, until more recently destroyed by vandals. How long has it been closed?

    Perhaps now pull it down and put the facade of Sanger’s Amphitheatre back up again.

Comments are closed.