It was a good night for Thanet at last week's Regeneration and Renewal Awards. First, Turner Contemporary was voted the best example of an arts project leading regeneration. Then Kent County Council picked up a prize for its initiative to bring empty homes back into use. It was good to see one of TDC's officers, Mike Thompson, collect the award, in recognition of the prominent role we played in that programme.
The previous week saw the visit of Mary Portas. It was interesting to hear her impressions of what was happening in Margate and to see her reaction when she discovered the Old Town.
As expected, she told us that what was happening to the High Street was being replicated up and down the land, as changing retail patterns and the recession were hitting hard. She was of the opinion that many high streets were "over-retailed" and that, in her opinion, it was quite acceptable to consider other uses for empty shops, such as restaurants and residential.
Interestingly, at present, the council is working on a Local Development Framework, to be published next year, which will specify among other things, acceptable property uses in our towns. Our discussions have already considered a mix of uses, including residential, in Margate's town centre. This does not signal the "abandonment of the High Street", as reported in some sections of the media, but rather offers more options to end the depressing sight of long-term empty shops.
Mary's conclusions were very encouraging. It was most gratifying, however, to hear that she had come to Margate expecting to find a "basket case" and was delighted to find a town that was already well along the path to recovery.
She was bowled over by the Old Town renewal and accepted that the High Street would be more challenging, but she detected a will and spirit in both the council and the business community that would eventually deliver success.