Work starts in Margate to invest Portas Pilot £100k windfall
PUTTING education and fun back into the high street is at the heart of plans to breathe life into Margate.
The town received a big boost on Saturday when it was named as one of 12 Portas Pilots.
The Margate Town Team won £100,000 grant and the support of retail experts to help turn around Britain's second worst ghost town, with one of the highest rates of empty shops.
Town teams were formed by communities across Thanet as one of 28 recommendations by retail guru Mary Portas to help bring business back to Britain's town centres.
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Margate town team welcomed the £100,000 grant and the support of government advisers to breathe life into the town.
Chairman Robin Vaughan-Lyons, who runs two High Street shops, said: "This is amazing news. The real work starts now.
"We've already started working together to make a difference to our town. And we're working together with other towns to see how we can help each other."
Critics of the scheme claim the grant will not be sufficient to engineer real change but the town team believe many of its ideas are more a question of organisation than cash.
The town team is working on plans to bring a student economy into the High Street with the opening of a new education centre, incentives for landlords to fill empty shops and a town centre co-ordinator to support traders.
With Margate's 36.1 per cent vacancy rate, the town team advocate more creative use of larger empty units such as the former Woolworths store. Prohibitive rents and rates have put off potential investment since its closure in 2008.
The team is already working with letting agents to identify landlords of empty premises to discuss bringing shops back into use. More than a third of town centre premises are empty according to a recent report by the Local Data Company (LDC).
Liz Hamson is deputy editor of The Grocer magazine and lives in Cliftonville.
She welcomes the funding but is sceptical about the role of pop-up shops in regeneration.
Ms Hamson said: "The High Street needs a more permanent solution. It needs chains as well as independents, even if they're regional rather than national – retailers not currently at Westwood Cross.
"Lots of people want to open units in the town but landlords have realised there's high demand so have put rents up – start-ups can't afford it.
"The biggest impact on the town would be the return of Dreamland because it would bring holidaymakers back and Margate is a tourist town."
Council leader Clive Hart said: "Margate received a visit from Mary Portas in September and this was very useful for us and we found her very supportive and enthusiastic about the town's future."
The town team plan to hold a public meeting in High Street on June 11. See www.margate townteam.org.uk