On the evening of Thursday of 27 February 2020, the Margate’s Millions team put on a workshop for residents in the town. Seventy eight people came to the Cliftonville Community Centre on St Paul’s Road to discuss the Town Deal Fund bid that will go to central government later in the year. Up to £25 million is available if we get the right proposals in place.
After a brief overview of the Town Deal Fund scheme, those present were asked to share their ideas. Three flip-charts were set up with headings drawn from the government’s own prospectus – Connectivity; Skills, Enterprise and Culture; and Urban Regeneration, Land Use and Planning. Everyone was encouraged to create their own headings and write up their own proposals. These independent categories were also created: Credit Union, Housing, Food, Home of the Homeless, “Village”, Alternative Education Centre, The Lido, Lido, Ex-Crazy Golf Site, Youth Clubs, Adult Education, Alcohol / Drug Dependency Help. At the end of the event all the sheets were photographed and posted online. All the ideas and the proposals on the sheets have also been written up as a Word document. It is well worth looking at the unedited transcripts, especially the independent proposals, some of which are quite detailed.
Those present had 30 minutes to discuss their ideas and write them down. For another 30 minutes everyone walked round, reading what had been proposed by others. Each person then had 3 stickers. These they could use to ‘vote’ for ideas they liked. They were free to split the votes or concentrate them on one idea. At the end we were left with a snapshot of what people are interested in seeing included in a Margate Town Deal Fund bid. Below is a summary of the ideas and themes that emerged. It is only a summary. The full results are well worth looking at and are all available online.
The two things that recurred most in the discussion – and attracted the most voting stickers – were cycling and making the town safer for pedestrians. The two most popular individual ideas under this heading were ’20 MPH in Margate’ with 4 votes and ‘Pedestrianise the Old Town’ with 5 votes. ‘Traffic calming’ won another vote, as did ‘Pedestrianise the Old Town’. There was also one vote for ‘Pedestrianise the seafront (as per the Seafront Plan)’ – perhaps a reference to The Jacobs Report. In all pedestrianisation and other measures to make the town safer for people on foot received 12 votes.
‘Cycling safety / more cycle routes / better awareness around cyclists’ received 2 votes. ‘Better signage for bike paths’ received another. ‘Encourage bike use w cheap rental / free trials at the railway station’ took 1 vote. The idea of a ‘Loop cycle path – St Peters Path and Coastal promenade (via Broadstairs) took another 1 vote. A ‘Cycle repair workshop and skilling’ won 2 votes. In all cycling-themed ideas received 7 votes.
Other ideas that received support were ‘Electric / tram / bus links from the station to the Turner and up into Cliftonville’, which received 2 votes. ‘A one-way system for the Margate approaches from the Canterbury Road; dual extend the dual carriageway to the roundabout at the railway station. Seafront shut to traffic on weekends?’ also received 2 votes. ‘Parking to be allocated to the Winter Gardens’ took one vote. ‘Resident’s parking in the Old Town’, 1 vote. And ‘Dog poo police’ received strong support, with 3 votes
Proposals in the Connectivity category received 27 vote-stickers in all.
Skills, Enterprise and Culture
By far the most popular single proposal in this category was a Martial Arts School, which would provide probation courses and scholarships, and operate in a building that would be available for the community to use. This idea received 25 votes, almost as many as all the Connectivity proposals combined.
The next most popular individual proposals to support existing projects (eg ‘Ageless Thanet, SE Kent, Garden Gate Project, Windmill Community Garden Allotment Project’) and to use the Lido site as a cultural centre ‘along the lines of the Margate Caves’. Both these ideas received 7 votes.
Education was a very popular category. Educational support for the community by using schools for short courses and evening classes received 5 votes. Financial education received another 2 votes. ‘Pathways, apprenticeships, mentorships, work experience with trades (cultural industry)’ received 5 voters. Cooking and gardening skills both won 5 votes. ‘Increase skills and self-confidence + life experiences’ took 3 votes. In all educational proposals attracted 22 vote-stickers, or 47 if we include the Martial Arts School proposal.
Micro-loans to set up business through social banking (2 votes) and a free or low cost hub for new businesses (1 vote) both attracted support.
Proposals in the Skills, Enterprise and Culture category received 73 vote-stickers in all.
Urban Regeneration, Land Use and Planning
The three individual properties mentioned that received most sticker-votes were the Theatre Royal (7 votes), the old Mencap building in Tivoli (7 votes) and the Lido building. There were calls for more support for the performing arts at the Theatre, a community hub at the old Mencap building, and a world class swimming pool on the Lido site.
A collection of wellbeing proposals together received 6 votes. These included seating areas, water fountains (“Cecil Square maybe!” Like Granary Sq, a public meeting place), flower tubs, toilets, more toilets, cycling lanes (which featured in Connectivity above), Walpole Bay tidal pool facilities,. The idea of a outdoor gym received another vote. “5 Star Public Seafront lavatories that are sustainable through small change” also received another vote.
Expanding the Turner, perhaps into the Pettmans building, received 5 vote-stickers.
The desire to make the town more pedestrian-friendy received more support in this caregory. There was 1 vote for making Cecil a pedestrian space, and 4 votes for a shared space seafront along the lines proposed in the Jacobs report.
Coastal sites attracted a certain amount more attention. There were 3 votes for making the Crazy Oasis site into a skate park again. 1 vote for the idea of a coastal park, and 2 votes for stopping parking on the Harbour Arm.
Housing again featured as a matter of concern. Getting rid of bedsits received 2 votes and developing a block of flats also received 2 votes. There were 2 votes for no more asset disposals – make places pay. ‘Affordable housing is fake’ received 1 vote-sticker. And there was 1 vote for limits on second homes as in Cornwall and 1 vote for supporting the task force.
Turning seaweed from a problem into a solution received 3 votes and the idea of a sculpture park received 2.
This category attracted 57 votes in all.
‘Being poor is expensive!’ The idea of a credit union that would provide low interest loans and financial education received 7 votes. (A credit union also had some support in the Skills, Enterprise and Culture section).
There were some detailed proposals on housing, which received 6 votes in all. Support was expressed for council housing (2 votes), training for local apprentices (1 vote) and the requisitioning of poorly maintained or unoccupied properties (1 vote).
Again, there were some detailed proposals here, which received a total of 7 votes. The most popular single proposal was to ‘teach and educate people on low incomes how to cook fast, cheap, healthy meals’, which picked up 4 votes.
Home of the Homeless
This proposal outlined how a ‘home for the homeless’ could help people transition back into society and act as a model for similar institutions elsewhere. It received a total of 5 votes.
This set out the idea of taking over specific empty properties and using them to provide spaces for the community, for respite, for the homeless and for other purposes. This proposal received 6 votes.
Alternative Education Centre
This sheet set out a proposal to ‘address the difficulties in life situation of our young people.’
‘Develop into a visitor centre’ received 1 vote.
The refurbishment of the Lido, perhaps as a commercial spa, received 18 votes on this sheet.
Ex-Crazy Golf Site
The re-use of the Crazy Golf site in Cliftonville was proposed, including the question ‘Redo as a skateboard park?’ This received 5 votes.
The case for youth clubs, which featured in other categories, was made here in some detail. The proposals on this sheet received 5 votes.
This call for workplace-oriented skills training received 3 votes.
Alcohol / Drug Dependency Help
There was a call here to help people with alcohol and drug issues that didn’t require total abstinence. This received 5 votes.
The workshop category with the most votes was Skills, Enterprise and Culture with 73 vote-stickers. This is perhaps unsurprising – the town has benefited from investments in the creative sector. But the economy is still characterised by low wage and seasonal work in many instances and there is clearly a need for interventions to improve skills and opportunities for young people in particular.
The second most voted-for category was Urban Regeneration, Land Use and Planning. The use of land in the town is a matter of intense general concern. As a seaside resort the coastline and the properties nearby are core to our visitor offer. And like many places in England we are beset with the problems caused by house price inflation. In many ways, Margate’s future prosperity depends on maximising the revenues from our natural riches in a sustainable way, and using those revenues to deliver a high quality of life and excellent public services to all our citizens.
The single proposal that received the most support was the idea of a Martial Arts School, which secured 25 votes. This is slightly more than 10% of all the stickers issued in the evening. It is worth noting that a building in the town dedicated to promoting community cohesion could host a Martial Arts School, a community kitchen, community hubs and other resources for young people, and many of the other ideas that attracted support on the evening.
No single proposal for the Lido site was as popular as the Martial Arts School. But ideas for regenerating and reviving this key strategic resource received 27 votes in total. Again, this is hardly surprising. The Lido is one of the most important properties in the town and its restoration could help extend visitor stays in the town, draw the public towards Cliftonville from the Turner Contemporary, and provide improved public amenities for residents.
There was broad support for making the town more pedestrian-friendly, thereby improving the quality of public spaces. There were 17 votes along these lines.
There was a sense that people saw huge, untapped potential in Margate and were thinking creatively and constructively about how to make good on it. It is to be hoped that the board appointed by Thanet District Council pays close attention to what the event revealed and takes steps to build on it. If they fail to do so they will risk producing a Towns Fund bid that makes sense behind closed doors but will be unacceptable to their fellow citizens.