What has Margate got that Morecambe hasn’t?

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MARGATE is a dilapidated seaside resort with a large number of empty shops, a former fairground standing empty on its promenade and residents worn down by years of decline and disappointment.

Sound familiar?

But while the famous Kent seaside resort and Morecambe are startlingly similar in many ways, Margate is turning the corner.

Like Morecambe, in 2012 the south-east coastal town gained a £100,000 Government cash boost as a Mary Portas Pilot Town.

Now its empty shops are slowly being filled, a majestic £17.5m Turner art gallery has opened on the seafront attracting 500,000 visitors in its first year and an Oscar-winning director is shooting a film about the town.

What’s more, leading travel publisher Rough Guide voted Margate one of 2013’s must-visit destinations alongside Stockholm, Dubrovnik and Puerto Rico, no less.

Meanwhile, the town’s old Dreamland amusement park, as seen on the famous ‘Jolly Boys Outing’ episode of Only Fools and Horses, could reopen next year as a ‘heritage’ theme park, home to classic rides from all over the world - including one from our own Frontierland.

Margate received £10m for the project including £3.7m Government cash to rejuvenate UK seaside towns. This was from the same ‘Sea Change’ pot Morecambe’s Winter Gardens applied for in 2009...and didn’t get.

To rub ironic salt in Morecambe wounds, Margate has recruited one of our own to head the Dreamland project.

Morecambe-born Wayne Hemingway’s firm Hemingway Design will create the overall scheme and branding for the disused site.

“Margate is showing a real collective effort by everybody to make a difference,” said Wayne, 51.

“They have a council who are willing to take risks in making decisions. They ‘get it’ and will have a go.

“They are influencing some great things to happen down there.”

When Wayne talks with such passion about the Margate resurrection, one question springs easily to mind.

Why aren’t you doing this in your hometown?

According to Hemingway, the answer is quite simple. Our local authority won’t employ him.

“I’ve been in touch with Lancaster City Council over the years but there’s been no interest at all,” said Wayne.

London-based Hemingway loves his birthplace. He visits Morecambe regularly, is a patron of the Winter Gardens and even indulged one of his other great passions by DJing at the town’s soul music festival a few years ago.

He also wanted to remodel the central promenade area next to the Midland Hotel, entering Urban Splash’s international design competition in 2006.

But Flacq won the contest, developers Urban Splash plumping for their sketches centred around modern high-rise flats and shops.

Urban Splash’s scheme, scheduled to go before Lancaster City Council planning in 2013, has caused a public outcry. Hemingway himself remains critical of the plans.

“Shops and houses on that prime promenade location, what’s that about?” said Wayne.

“That’s the most special piece of land in Morecambe.

“It beggars belief they are thinking about it.

“Do something world class in that world class location or do nothing.”

Wayne says Morecambe needs to get creative, like Margate, in order to compete on the world stage.

“Creativity and the creative industries are the biggest drivers of regeneration in the world.

“Regeneration doesn’t come from throwing money at something and doing up houses. It comes from people who have a real understanding of what modern life is about.

“To get people to come to Morecambe you’re up against Virgin, who are trying to get everyone to fly to New York, shopping centres opening everywhere, John Lewis has been clever with Christmas advertising to get you to go shopping.

“Morecambe needs to do something that you can’t do anywhere else locally.”

Margate still has its fair share of problems for sure. The Thanet town still had 36.5% of its shops standing empty last year.

But Hemingway says: “The council is encouraging creative places to take up shops and doing it with style.

“That’s what drew us to get involved. We could see that if it was going to happen anywhere in the UK in a down at heels seaside resort, it would happen in Margate.

“They invested a lot of money in the Turner Gallery and that was a big risk. The idea of bringing back a long-gone amusement park but with classic rides from Coney Island, New York and all over the UK has never been done before. That’s what regeneration is.

“It’s about creating a buzz.”

Aside from the Margate project, Hemingway’s recent work includes designing vintage furniture in Brighton and overhauling run-down housing estates in Boscombe, Dartford and Kings Lynn.

But the man who made Red Or Dead one of the biggest design brands in the world feels frustration and regret that he hasn’t been asked to turn his Midas touch to Morecambe.

“You have got somebody here from the town who is at the top of his field,” he said.

“It would be great to work in Morecambe and Lancaster but it’s never materialised.

“Maybe it will happen one day, before I retire...”