Some of the investment needs to be large scale and some smaller, the latter driven by independent creative businesses that are part of what makes Thanet special, shape the personality of the place and which reinforce the Isle of Thanet’s Shared Story. The actions in this priority area are the first steps to help realise that objective. Thanet District Council should support further bespoke investment through its planning policies, local plans and through business and funding support programmes.
The majority of hotel development companies have a tried and tested formula that works for their brand and their business model. They will invest in Thanet if it meets those criteria. Thanet should communicate clear messages about its competitive advantage to attract these hotel developers. It should look to attract a range of types of hotel to deliver not only more bedrooms but also additional places to eat and meeting rooms. It also needs to encourage inward investment by niche developers and companies looking to invest in upcoming places. These developers can play an important part in delivering distinctive quality experiences that contribute to Thanet’s competitive positioning. They will choose Thanet because of its character, are more likely to work with the grain of the place, want to be active partners, be quality-led and be committed to Thanet.
There are a number of large, highly visible, run down and underused buildings and sites along the coast. These buildings detract from the natural beauty of the coastline and the investment that is happening elsewhere in the towns and along the seafronts. Some of these buildings offer potential for the visitor economy. They are difficult buildings to tackle and require intervention to deliver investment in them. Some of these buildings are in the ownership of Thanet District Council, creating an opportunity for the Council to lead the way and help stimulate the commercial marketplace by creating momentum and through best practice. A first task is to identify which of them might be adapted for tourism-related uses. These large buildings are assets because of their prime location but liabilities because many are in a poor state of repair, some are listed and the size and scale of the restoration needed may dissuade developers from considering them. These buildings need a bespoke approach to encourage and support investment from lateral-thinking, niche developers who may have tackled similar challenges in metropolitan and waterfront cities and who are familiar with forming joint ventures with local authorities. These buildings are big challenges and there is no quick-win solution but there may be ‘meanwhile’ uses - temporary or occasional uses that can bring colour and life back into the buildings in the short-term, which may evolve into permanent uses and will showcase the building and it’s potential. These meanwhile uses create a buzz and add to the visitor experience. Thanet has begun using that approach by looking at meanwhile uses for Dreamland Cinema, for example.
Thanet also needs to think of ways to capitalise on its creative community and its unique heritage assets by looking to programmes and schemes that can support and encourage smaller scale new tourism businesses and heritage groups realise their potential and deliver new product and experiences for visitors. It is important that what happens in coastal regeneration supports regeneration in the Isle’s high streets to deliver a joined-up destination.
Create a shortlist of tourism development priority sites along the coast and promote them to specialist developers – use an audit to make the case, create a focus for effort and ‘at a glance’ developer-relevant information which includes sections on ’fit with the Local Plan and with the Shared Story’, potential tourism-related uses (permanent and meanwhile)’ and ’funding opportunities’. Carry out feasibility studies where relevant and introduce creative meanwhile uses to make those buildings lively and engaging in the short term. Also identify opportunities for retro fitting and sustainable best practice where appropriate to reinforce Thanet’s green credentials.
Produce Top 10 Reasons to Invest in Tourism in Thanet - clear, distinctive promotional information that is used to target specialist niche developers and to host site visits and events that bring together local champions (including businesses and investors), developers and key staff at Thanet District Council.
Support heritage and special interest groups to become local enablers – Thanet has several groups active in looking at sites, locations and heritage projects - building their capacity will support grassroots solutions and help create a coordinated response to heritage investment and funding. The commitment, knowledge and input of these groups are essential to help realise the potential of Thanet’s heritage. The development of the Thanet Heritage Strategy will help support the work of these groups and provide important context for funding bids.
Develop a ‘Staying above the Studio’ pilot scheme to create character accommodation, developed and managed by the local creative industries sector - the creative talent of Thanet is part of the destination experience and small arts businesses frequently need to generate additional income streams to achieve sustainability. By encouraging and equipping arts SMEs with the skills to develop and manage small scale character B&B and self-catering accommodation, the DMP will help deliver sustainable and profitable arts businesses and diversify and strengthen business skills within the creative sector. There is an economic multiplier effect to this, building sustainability and business growth that creates demand for further services and attracts more of similar businesses to choose Thanet as a place to start a business.
Thanet District Council will actively and wisely use the planning process to help support the delivery of all these actions.