Monday, 25 May 2009

Urban Panel report

Friday's Isle of Thanet Gazette carried an interesting article on the English Heritage Urban Panel visit to Margate and subsequent report.

The Gazette reports that Chris Smith, the panel co-ordinator stated:
"The Georgian town built on the hill fields beyond the High Street puts Margate at the forefront of English seaside development and had Cecil Square and The Assembly Rooms survived intact, the image of the town today might well be different today.

The building that houses Thanet Council is so out of scale and over bearing as to drive the image of the rest of Cecil Square from the mind. The square has suffered badly from the non-negotiable demands of the highway engineer. Members felt that the re-creation of Cecil Square as a pedestrian dominated space of quality would offer a far better return for residents and visitors alike."

I couldn't agree more. Last week I went on a historic guided tour of Margate with the Margate Civic Society. It was really enjoyable and I'd recommend it. It was so interesting to get a new view of places and details that I pass in everyday life. One of the stops was on Cecil Square. Old photographs were passed around that showed a Thornton Bobby department store with wonderful ronate ironwork to the facade next door to the Natwest Building and that corner was an intact terrace of fine houses down to street level. There was no delivery arch into the corner, which I believe was put in later for M&S. It's so destructive the modifications that are made and then the businesses move on. Looking at the old pictures and then bothering to look up above the traffic it's clear the fabric of the beautiful square is still there. But that it is obliterated by the excessive widening of the road and the Council Offices and Court that tower over in extreme ugliness.

I remember someone telling me that the TDC building was built with no expense spared. Something about handmade bricks shipped in specially? I will have to do some research on this. If anyone has any pictures or knowledge of what was there before the ins and outs of the building of the current Council offices I'd be glad interested.

It isn't hard to imagine Cecil Square back to its former glory. If it was in any other european city it would be one of the main public squares of the town, fronted with shops, bars and cafes. Perhaps a weekly market. Instead it's a car park, duel carriageway and bustop with poor street furniture and inappropriate landscaping. It could be a welcoming place instead of a stressful environment.

It seems Margate officals were pleased with the panel's report in respect of Dreamland and the Turner Contemporary and Old Town. I need to research what plans are afoot for Cecil Square and also to track down the report. The Council is feeding back on the report on June 16th.


  1. Actually I believe it DOES have a weekly market, but otherwise I agree totally. Unfortunately "squares" in town centres are generally only squares in name these days, check out Birchington for example. I'd certainly like to see both of these fully widened-pedestrianised again, though I'm not sure how traffic could be diverted.

  2. Well, not a quality food market that will bring people into the area. Food markets are really the only area of growth in markets and are doing really well. Take Bury Market, for example. A real shining light for the sale of quality independent food.

  3. I agree the walkabout of the town - although not extensive did actually walk us about more than i though it would.

    I think there is scope to have more in-depth tour of the old town. The use of old photographs. postcards and images where a really good aid to get a look at the buildings we usually just walk past.

    I often say to people walking about Margate is to "look up!" - but try to avoid pigeons and seagulls (herring gulls)!

    Would be interesting to see what English Heritage's full thoughts on Cecil Square were. It has potential!

    As for traffic it would be nice to try and get it diverted via the old town - not directly, but the bus links would be nice to have put back. After all the Tea Stall in Market Place used to be a bus shelter!

    Maybe if people could get direct access to the Old Town we will have that much needed foot fall back. Additionally, if residents had these bus links the issue of parking could be resolved better.

    Not saying it is a solution just a suggestion.
    Keep us posted 'MA'

    I am going to do a little post on my site with some piccys of Cecil Square - have a looky.

  4. The problem is that there's also been suggestions by some that the Margate seafront area from Arlington House up to (at least) the clock tower should be pedestrianised, & much as I dislike cars I don't think it would do the town any good to pedestrianuse everywhere! So given the choice I'd go for pedestrianisation of the seafront.

  5. I couldn't agree more with English Heritage's comments on Cecil Square. If the planners had had their way, not only would Cecil Square have ended up as a car park/ bus bay, but Hawley Square would have been demolished along with much of the old Town centre to make way for a ring road. Cars are the ruin of towns. They pollute the air with noise fumes small and dust scare away shoppers (imagine Blue water with cars driving down the main isle! ) and make life unpleasant for residents-

    Cecil Square the grand residence of kings. The architecture is beautiful (except for the council blight) and should be re-landscaped to reflect grand it's past. As a formal garden square would be an amazing asset to the town. The bus could stop at the top of the high street. Small electric shuttles could come into the seafront and the old Town Centre.

    Not an avantguard solution, but one that has been adopted in many historic towns in Europe. It would be unimaginable to have busses going through Place De Vosges in Paris or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. If Cecil Square were to be pedestrionised and made into a proper square as suggested by EH, I dont think even the most enthusiastic motorist would regret it.

    True there is a market, but it is no attraction just sells trash cheep cleaning products and pound shop trash. A good weekly food market would be great for the town.

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  7. Take a look at today's Thanet Times (page 10) for a fascinating glimpse of "the future" of Cecil Square in 1960.