In today's Guardian, Vivien Knibbs, Managing Director of Orbit South Housing Association has defended Margate's honour in response http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/03/margate-will-thrive-again to the lazy article from Tom Dykoff I reported on last month. We also reported on the plight of Orbit owned 19 Hawley Square last month. One hopes that a bright future will also await for that building.
"Your article on Margate poignantly highlighted the significant challenges the town faces (Fun is running low. Now Margate has a dismal new claim to fame, 19 February). But claiming that "Margate may be the saddest of all" Britain's seaside towns suggests an inevitable decline which is simply not true. I firmly believe Margate has a great platform for renewal and regeneration.
In particular you describe the high street: "So forlorn is the town's retail centre that a group of A-level students walk around with clipboards, marking off the closed shops as part of their geography coursework." However, over 15 new boutiques, galleries and cafes have opened in the old town over the last 18 months.
Margate has much going for it. The location of this original seaside town is excellent. Its beautiful, sandy beaches and stunning architecture set it apart from other coastal towns. The sense of community is strong and the local authority and other agencies, including my housing association, have a deep and long-standing commitment to further regenerating the area. Crucially, there are significant and exciting plans already in place to attract new investment.
In 2009 the High Speed 1 rail link enabled commuters to travel directly to London in just under an hour and a half, and firmly placed Margate at the gateway to Europe. This has opened up the town and we're excited about what this may bring with regard to people relocating and an increase in visitors to the area.
You rightly highlighted the opening of the £20m Turner Contemporary in April, citing Jane Holbrey's comment that "the Turner gallery has been a real draw … but I think [artists and galleries] started moving in before then because of the beautiful surroundings and architecture." This is only part of the picture.
Thanet district and Kent county council plan to buy and refurbish around 300 properties with targeted investment on a street-by-street basis. This will particularly start to reverse the impact your report cited of "the handsome Victorian townhouse hotels in the Cliftonville area [which] were carved into bedsits".
[Ed. This is 19 Hawley Square, which Orbit has proposed carving into tiny 1 bed flats and a bedsit]
Our housing association owns more than 2,800 homes and is committed to providing 300 new affordable homes over the next seven years, as well as offering training and apprenticeship opportunities to local residents.
This partnership approach is part of a long-term regeneration strategy – in collaboration with local and central government agencies and private investment – which is set to revive Margate. Shopkeeper Tamburlaine Robb-John says in your article: "There are a lot of doubters in the town but I'm hoping it will be the start of the renewal." Margate's greatest asset is its people, who have a growing sense of optimism about the future of their town.
There are no quick fixes, it will take time. But don't write Margate off just yet. We know this once-great town can grow, thrive and eventually flourish. Visit Margate for yourself and you'll see the changes that have already taken place."