February 24th 2010
If I had the money I would, today, go out and buy a shop in the lower part of Margate High Street. Preferably one of the double-sided ones with access onto the seafront.
Following the publication of statistics revealing that Margate had one of the most `derelict` High Streets in the country I recently took a call from a journalist working for a national newspaper. "Is it", she asked "because of the recession that so many shops have closed". The thrust was clear: please tell me that this is the result of the Government's economic policies because I want to write some knocking copy!
I hold Gordon Brown responsible for many of our economic ills and it is certainly true that his disastrous management of the nation's economy has not helped the retail trade over the past couple of years but the roots of High Street decay go back much further than that and were predicted, by myself and others, at the time .
A previous socialist Thanet Council likes to claim the credit for instigating the Westwood Cross project and although it was the present administration that saw it through to realisation it is certainly true that Mr. Nicholson's team set the ball rolling. Unfortunately, in tandem with the neglect of the transport infrastructure needed to properly service an out-of-town shopping centre and which has led directly to much of today's congestion, no serious attention was paid to the likely effect of the migration of shops from the High Streets of Thanet to Westwood and no policy was put in place to re-invent the boutique trade that is the viable alternative to big stores.
The decline in the traditional British Seaside holiday business, and the fall in the number of visitors generated in part by the closure of Dreamland, seriously weakened retail demand. The recession killed off Woolworths, certainly, but once Marks & Spencer and Next and a couple of other anchor outlets headed out of town it was inevitable that the footfall which is the lifeblood of smaller shops would diminish and those smaller shops would close. Up went the shutters and although the façade of the Windows of Opportunity promotion have helped to mask the reality the stark fact is that there are far too many empty shops at the seaward end of the road.
So now would be a very good time for those who have already missed the chance to put money into Margate Old Town to invest.
I have long said that the Turner Centre cannot be seen as an end in itself. On its own it will not regenerate the Town. It is, though, the vital and impressive cornerstone of the Margate Waterfront development and it has already had a hugely stimulative effect that has convinced those small traders with the courage to seize the opportunity to bring their money into the Old Town with an eye on the future. The Lower High Street will follow and as the higher-spending Turner visitors arrive so will the demand for the boutiques and wine bars and restaurants needed to service their expectations.
That is why I now have no hesitation in saying to those with a commercial eye on the future "get into Margate High Street now before you miss the boat".