With a 36.1% retail vacancy rate in the town centre Margate was always a contender for one of the Portas Pilots grants and the Margate Town Team are the group who masterminded the winning bid and who are now faced with the task of distributing the £100,000 grant.
Robin Vaughan-Lyons who is the head of the Town Team is pleased at the response so far. “We had sheets and sheets of people who signed up to open pop-up shops on the high street,” he says. “If we gave every one of these people a pop-up shop we’d have no empty shops left at all. The job club also went crazy. We ran out of leaflets in 10 minutes.”
The once busy high street is now a mishmash of charity shops, discounters and a few national and independent retailers with many voids. This is a High Street that has really suffered from the opening of a very large out-of-town shopping centre, Westwood Cross in 2005 which enticed big retailers such as Marks and Spencer away from the town centre. Add this to the downturn and Margate lost further national retailers such as Woolworths, Game Station, Shoe Express to name but a few to the administrators.
Landlords are not helping themselves in this climate either with many rumoured to have hiked rents due to the opening of The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in 2011 and again now that the pilot bid has been won.
Whilst an unfortunate side effect of both, the gallery has already begun to help regenerate the town so perhaps the Portas Pilot will find success and revive a once bustling seaside town to it’s former glory.