Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Second Report



Dr Phyllis Starkey MP (Chair)

Lyn Brown MP

Mr Greg Hands MP

Dr John Pugh MP

Richard Samuel (Chief Executive, Thanet District Council)

John Bunnett (Corp. Director, Thanet District Council)

Cllr Sandy Ezekiel (Leader, Thanet District Council)

Sam Thomas (Regeneration Manager, Thanet District Council)

Cllr Bayford (Chair, Margate Renewal Partnership)

Carla Wenham (Renewal Manager, Thanet District Council)

Derek Harding (Director, Renewal Partnership)

Ann Smith (Chair, Margate Town Partnership)

Fran Warrington/Ruth Wood (Kent Tourism Alliance)

Frank Thorley (Local Entrepreneur)

Chief Supt. Peter West (Kent Police)

John Haward (Director Kent and Medway, GOSE)

Richard Murrells (Director, Health for Children & Young People, Kent County Council)

Janet Waghorn (Executive Director, East Kent Partnership)

Paul Tipple (Chair, East Kent Partnership)

Frances Rehal (Director, Surestart Millmead)

Victoria Pomery (Director, Turner Contemporary)

Keith MacKenney (Regeneration Manager, Kent County Council)

Lucy Betts (Supporting Independence Programme)

Allert Riepma (Senior Development Manager, SEEDA)

John Holmes (Chair, Thanet Community Development Trust)

Paul Trumble (Chair, Local Strategic Partnership)

Jenny Cranstone (Dalby Square Project)

Sue Buss (Principal, Thanet College)

Cheryl Pendry (Press Officer, Thanet District Council)

Andrea Bennett (Corporate Project Officer, Thanet District Council)

The Chair opened the meeting by thanking local stakeholders for attending, and outlined the main themes of the Committee's inquiry.

Mr Thorley said that public funding was vital to the future of Margate. The future of the Dreamland site was the major issue facing the town as its regeneration could act as a catalyst for regeneration of the rest of Margate.

Mr MacKenney said the area benefited from a strong and active partnership. However, various local funding streams had been or would soon be lost—single regeneration budget, objective 2, townscape initiatives and Heritage Lottery Fund monies among them. He said that something equivalent to the coalfield communities fund could be a way forward towards helping coastal towns.

Mr Thomas said that the area differed from other urban centres because of the large number of small-scale private sector businesses operating in it.

Ms Rehal argued for the development of more children's centres, suggesting that more lottery funding was required and that the allocation of funding needed careful consideration.

Mr Murrells discussed the role of improved community infrastructure in regeneration.

Mr Harding said the town needed to be more reactive to its problems and stressed the scale of the problems relating to unemployment, a significant transient population and low local skills levels. A serious programme was required to tackle those issues.

Ms Waghorn said local authorities had worked with an inward investment agency to bring in more private sector experience. There had been significant advances in the town's marine and aviation facilities with substantial improvements in the port and the local airport. This effort was focused beyond Margate.

Mr Trumble said major improvements were necessary to local infrastructure, and that the Local Strategic Partnership was working on that. In particular, transport links required improvement, but the "loop", a bus system for the local area, was improving.

Another participant argued for significant infrastructure investment. He added that small and medium-sized enterprises could not afford to pay substantial training costs and that the area had sought large company investment but had many small firms operating within it. He argued for substantial improvements in local literacy and skills levels, suggesting that community-based projects for training before formal qualifications were sought would be useful.

Mr Holmes stated that the image of coastal towns needed to be enhanced at a national level.

Chief Supt Peter West spoke on the issue of funding, saying that funding levels do not adequately reflect the level of policing need, influenced by factors such as the high numbers of Looked after Children in the area.

Mr Riepma outlined SEEDA's support for improving the skills-base within the local area. He went on to outline two major projects that SEEDA had supported to assist in regenerating the area, producing high-quality residential accommodation in the old town centre area and the development of a business park. It was stated that these projects would lever in private sector funding.

Cllr Bayford spoke on the need to enhance the image of Margate town centre. He noted that the Dreamland site was privately owned, and as such this presented a challenge.

Ms Cranstone spoke from her experience in regenerating Dalby Square of the need to involve residents and overcome their apathy. She also highlighted the lack of public transport in the area, informing the Committee that locals called Thanet 'Planet Thanet'.

Ms Smith stated that with climate change and global warming Thanet had the potential to increase its levels of tourists, and that as such it needed to improve its beaches and coastal paths.

Mr Bunnett spoke on the need to have a vision for the local area and said strong partnerships were critical in developing a shared vision across organisations necessary for successful regeneration.

In response to a question on ownership of the vision for the area, Ms Wenham spoke of the work under way to communicate a co-ordinated simple message to the public about the regeneration of the town. Mr Samuel explained that as the Chief Executive of Thanet District Council he was ultimately responsible for the Vision and regeneration of the town, as the public look towards the district council for action.

Cllr Ezekiel spoke on the challenge in communicating change to the public particularly on issues such as the Dreamland site, where there is a resistance to change. He explained that the council had a community leadership role in communicating and managing this change process.

Ms Wenham added that there was a particular difficulty in engaging transient populations in regeneration, as they are not connected to the local area.

Mr. Harding stated that many local people held a nostalgic regard for Dreamland as they feel it is the heart of Margate. He explained that this was a difficult issue and that people need to be helped to develop a new identity with the town.

Mr Tipple stressed that the need for good transport links within the local area was just as important as its rail link to London. In particular, Thanet had a low level of car ownership making effective public transport even more important.

Mr Murrells said that raising the educational attainment levels in the area was vital in attracting the private sector to invest. He stated that central Government needed to create more incentives beyond simple investment in schools for this to take place.

Mr Thorley finished by stating that Margate had a lot to offer tourists and private investors, as he believed Margate was an attractive seaside town with the best beaches.

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