27 La Belle Alliance Square
Despite the gloomy economic news, the awful Christmas weather, and Government policies that show little regard towards those least able to cope with reduced finances, I am still optimistic for Ramsgate in 2013. May 2013 will see the end of my four year stint as Ramsgate Mayor and Chairman of Ramsgate Council. I’ve been Chairman since the Council’s formation and so cannot escape being associated with its failures and whatever successes have been achieved.
I like to think that the last four years have seen a rise in self belief and pride in the Town and that the Town Council has played a small part in this. With a small budget, few staff, and very limited powers, we decided, through necessity, that our main impact should be through facilitating other groups in the Town, prepared to work for their and Ramsgate’s benefit.
Our one statutory responsibility, the Town Allotments, are a source of pride, they are now well managed, 100% occupied, with short waiting lists. We are pleased that TDC are confident enough to grant us management rights over the remaining allotments in the Ramsgate area.
TDC’s closure of its Visitor Information Centre in Ramsgate led to us taking on that facility, and turned out to be a blessing. It acted as a catalyst in the relocation of our offices to the Custom House which has placed us in the centre of Ramsgate’s thriving seafront. We are grateful to the group of volunteers that run the facility for us. Their knowledge and patience continue to impress. Similarly, the demise of Ramsgate Town Partnership has led to us taking responsibility for Ramsgate’s Christmas lights and New Year fireworks.
Formation of the Town Council appears to have coincided with a revitalisation of the Ramsgate Society, and many of the Town’s Residents Associations. We applaud them all and are pleased to help their work. The Ramsgate Society’s work on the Seafront Shelters is bold, ambitious and a total triumph! There are many others, too numerous to mention individually, however I must thank the group working to maintain and improve the Montefiore Wood, now secure in the Council’s ownership.
Ramsgate is blessed with numerous groups willing to give their time and energy to create events for the Town and visitor’s enjoyment. The Town Council has worked with TDC to support most of these and has contributed this year directly to the Jubilee Celebrations, the Olympic Torch Relay and the Christmas Lights switch on. Particularly pleasing to me are the revival of the Town Carnival and the increasingly successful Ramsgate Arts Festival, the Summer Squall. Our events organisation, REO is proving an increasing success, though entirely voluntary and independent, it has our full support.
There are many resources in Ramsgate that deserve to be cherished and recognised as the assets they are, or could be, given refurbishment and tender loving care. These include the Royal Harbour itself, often quoted as a jewel in Thanet’s crown, but which does not receive the detailed conservation attention that I would like. These aspects of the Town, including the Regency buildings, our parks and public gardens, and some of the empty seafront buildings could all add greatly to the attractiveness of Ramsgate as a place to live, work or visit.
The Town Council does not have the resources to restore and maintain these assets alone, but we can and have acted as an advocate of action by higher councils, and voluntary groups. We are encouraged for example, by the plans of the Friends of Ellington Park, the work on Albion Gardens, the Project Motorhouse Group’s plans for Westcliff Hall and the Group I chair looking to restore Ramsgate’s wartime tunnels as a visitor attraction. We have been less successful in persuading TDC to invest in the grounds and buildings in their ownership. There has been some progress with the Maritime Museum and the Royal Harbour Brassiere back in use. We anticipate good news early in the New Year, regarding the occupation of Albion House as a boutique hotel.
There remains however the restoration of the Royal Victoria Pavilion and associated Ramsgate Main Sands. Together with the proposed development on the Royal Sands site, this area should be a source of economic development in the Town, centred on the only south facing sandy beach in the South East.
We regard one of the Town Council’s functions being the promotion of the Town as a place to live, work and to visit. We recognise the efforts of other bodies such as Visit Kent and Thanet District Council’s Tourism department in this regard, but do not want Ramsgate’s offer to be overlooked in the broader picture.
As well as the beach, the Royal Harbour and marina, and seafront cafés and restaurants, Ramsgate attracts visitors through its historical associations with the architect, Edward Pugin, the Christian missionary, St Augustine and the Dunkirk rescue of little ships during the Second World War. I chair a new group that is dedicated to the promotion of the Jewish philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore and his association with the Town. Sir Moses has a considerable reputation internationally as well as the noted donation of the Town Insignia to Ramsgate.
In considering how the Town Council could contribute to the promotion of the Town and its businesses, we have concluded that a modern, visitor focussed, web site is required together with a series of well promoted Town Trails designed to attract walking and cycling visitors and to promote attractions and businesses on the routes. In association with “Explore Kent” these developments should launch in spring 2013.
In difficult economic times, the vitality of Ramsgate Town Centre is a concern. We plan to offer all Ramsgate Town businesses free internet advertising on the Town web site and Town Trails. We have negotiated revised town centre cleaning schedules with TDC, and convened a group to tackle the perception of antisocial behaviour in the town. Ramsgate still has a solid core of daily shopping retail outlets including butchers, green grocers, bakers, chemists, general grocers, hardware shops, supermarkets, a fishmongers and weekly market. There are encouraging signs of new businesses opening including two art galleries.
We are talking to TDC regarding the vitality of the weekly market, the maintenance of the street furniture and multi storey car park, and parking policy in general. We have recently negotiated an agreement with TDC allowing us to stage events in Albert and Charlotte Courts to attract people into the town.
The Town Council is hoping that both an association of town traders and a Portas style “town team” will flourish in the New Year. We need their insight and input into our plans to improve the town. Our own survey of resident’s priorities is being collated for publication.
With regard to the broader town, Ramsgate has suffered considerably through Kent County Council’s policy that they should reduce their presence in each District to one outlet per service, and in Thanet’s case that outlet should be in Margate. We have lost our Age Concern at Foresters Hall, both our KCC staffed Youth Clubs, and soon to loose the Richborough Household Waste recycling Centre. Ramsgate Town Council has supported campaigns led by Ramsgate County Councillor Elizabeth Green to retain the Youth Clubs and Richborough. These campaigns are still vibrant and we hope will be ultimately successful. We expect the Town’s Library service to be threatened next.
Next year I hope to focus TDC’s attention on the children’s play facilities in each of the Ramsgate wards and to ensure each Community has a suitable community building to provide focus for resident’s efforts to improve their areas.
The news, late in 2012 that Newington is to receive a £1M grant for community led projects is very exciting. Details are sketchy at present, but appear to include both the Marlowe Academy and Dame Janet School.