It was a bit of an honour to be asked to speak at Thanet District Council’s planning committee last night. I was there on behalf of our local residents, asking the council to turn down plans for a large site on the road where I live. The former Thanet Press works is a lovely jumble of buildings from the earlier Bobby & Co, the first Victorian printers on the site, up to 1950s modernist blocks built when Thanet Press was part of the publisher Eyre & Spotiswoode. I’ve written about the history of the site previously. The plans are to replace this with two large blocks of flats, one storey higher than the surrounding terraces and over twice the height of any buildings currently on the site. The current facade, a pleasing jumble of buildings in different styles, would become one big, uniform building – a tower block laid on it’s side and dressed in an amateur dramatic company’s version of a Georgian costume.
Our ward councillor, Iris Johnston, had called for the plans to be seen by the full committee, after planning, traffic and conservation officers all recommended refusal. And Iris spoke on behalf of the developers last night, who she confirmed she’d had a number of meetings with. She reinforced her credentials as a supporter of the Armed Forces, and suggested that the 64 one and two bed flats to be crammed into the site might be ‘Homes For Heroes’ (there’s no evidence that this is the plan). Iris was taking a brave stand, speaking out against 34 of her constituents, the Resident’s Association in her ward, the town’s Conservation Area Advisory Group, and the council’s own officers, who’d all objected to the plans – not one local had written in support of them. Iris asked for any decision to be deferred, to allow a site visit to the collection of buildings which are just across the road from the council’s offices.
Thankfully, councillors disagreed with her, with Cllr. Clive Hart pointing out that he’d walked past the site at least a thousand times. The plans were refused unanimously, fourteen committee votes against them.
Here’s what I said last night:
Good evening Chair and members; my name is Dan Thompson. I am a Union Crescent resident and am speaking on behalf of the Hawley Square Residents Association.
We urge committee members to refuse this application for all the reasons raised by Planning Officers. Residents would like to draw attention to 4 points:
Margate Central is already densely populated, and is one of the most deprived areas in the UK with a high concentration of small flats. Existing houses in Union Crescent are split into as many as six flats.
The small flats attract a transient population, which causes problems which the council’s planning department, the Margate Task Force and our ward councillor are aware of.
The housing strategy says we have too many small flats and not enough family houses – a fact highlighted when we moved here, from Worthing, and struggled to find a family home to rent. This scheme proposes 64, 1 and 2-bed flats. This is completely against policy. Instead of addressing a need, this development would make a problem situation, worse. Cllr Hayton spoke earlier about cramming – this is cramming on a massive scale.
These additional flats with 1 parking space will be harmful to the amenity of all neighbours, and is against policy D1.
The strain on street parking and pedestrian movement highlighted in the officer’s report is increased by large numbers driving in from elsewhere and using the mosque, churches and the Theatre Royal. And this in a road already busy with buses and delivery lorries. We are particularly concerned about the problem of crossing at the top of Pump Lane and note the Highways Officer’s concerns about crossings for those with impaired mobility.
Union Crescent is in a Conservation area. It is lined with a variety of fine buildings, many grade II listed.
The collection of industrial buildings that form Thanet Press are unique and tell the story of earlier prinetsr on this site and of a nationally-important company, founded in 1770, printing everything from bibles to Royal Wedding invitations and exam papers. Policy says these buildings should be protected or enhanced. Wiping out this history would be harmful to the Conservation Area.
The massive block of flats proposed would be overbearing and even more harmful to Union Crescent, Princes Street and its Listed neighbours.
Demolition and redevelopment is only permitted if it would enhance the Conservation area. This does not enhance the area, and should be refused because it is against national policy and local policy D1.
The existing buildings can adapted and re-used. Their heritage celebrated. Other developers do this –The Vinyl Factory in West London, Butler’s Wharf on the Thames and Circus Street Market in Brighton are all premium developments because of their history.
There is no evidence of any attempt to preserve these buildings and people like me, who’ve approached the agents, have never had a reply, or have been told the site is unavailable.
Which leads to my final point; employment. Thanet Press at one time provided employment for 300 people. While the economy has changed, there is still a need for employment in the area, which has above average unemployment.
At the same time, businesses like mine are unable to find suitable premises and creative studios and coworking spaces across the town – of which there are a remarkably high number – are all at capacity.
No other site in Margate lends itself so well to a mixed ecology of studios, offices, spaces for small-scale manufacture, live-work units – all with an excellent street-facing façade and just a minute from the old town which is also at full capacity. This is in line with both local and national policy.
Thanet Press boarded up is a problem; but opened up by good development and new use, this could be the biggest opportunity Margate has to embed the emerging creative economy in the town centre.
nb The above is taken from my notes and is not a transcript of what was said so may vary slightly from any recording.