Margate needs a Dream come true

16/03/2011

The very name of Margate is resonant with the history of the great British holiday. For over 250 years, Londoners have traveled to bathe at Margate Sands and more recently to enjoy the attractions at the Dreamland Amusement Park. Margate is an attractive town, with some beautiful Georgian architecture and a wonderful sandy beach. There was a Victorian pier, but this was largely destroyed by fire in 1978.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to appreciate the beauty of the area on a foggy day in March. Dreamland is shrouded by scaffolding and the surrounding bars and amusement arcades (Treasure Chest and Prize Planet) are shut up. The place feels derelict and unloved.

Despite this, there are several amusement arcades open along the front. The first, which is evocatively named The Flamingo could do with a lick of paint and some new bulbs on its fabulous sign outside, but is immaculately clean and well-presented inside. There are no customers in the arcade but the 3 members of staff are filling the change machines and visibly working around the site.

There is a row of £5 AWPs, most of which are Astra multiplayers. There is a row of 2p pushers, all of which are Down the Coast and a Snakes and Ladders from Harry Levy at the front. Many contain clutches of redemption tickets and there is an impressive redemption counter at the back of the arcade. The cranes have some quality merchandise, such as Peppa Pig plush and there is a good mix of redemption equipment.

Mike Hatchett is happy to talk to me and confirms that the arcade’s focus is now firmly on redemption. “It is more important to us now than video. At the weekends we get really busy with all the families who come down here to play the redemption machines,” he says.

There is some video product, however. There is a Dance Stage, a Need 4 Speed Underground, Outrun 2 SP and Taito’s Panic Museum. All the equipment is in top condition and the arcade is clearly very well run.

r, Ginny G’s Amusements is also clean and fresh and the smell of polish permeates. The sign outside is well maintained and the name of the arcade is on the doors and the carpets, creating a sense of brand. There are plenty of 2p Cromptons pushers that look like they have been there for a while. The arcade is nice and warm and a family with 2 small boys come inside.

The boys rush off to play the pushers and nag their parents to play the video games. Once again, there is a quality redemption prize centre here. There are some top quality redemption pieces, including Jam Session and Big Bass Wheel Pro.

Next doo

There is a good selection of £5 AWPs including the obligatory Bar X from Electrocoin, Astra’s Party Time and a selection of single players that are inexplicably switched off. Barcrest’s Gold Rush multiplayer is imposing along one wall. A massive The Big One crane sits at the back near the Prize Shop.

As for video, there is Sega’s House of the Dead 2 and Namco’s Ninja Assault among others. There is also a well-used air hockey table in the middle of the arcade. The staff are not for talking but are happy for me to take a look around. Another lovely, well-kept arcade.

I pass an adult gaming centre with an electric sliding door that swishes open to reveal nobody inside. Harry’s Bar has a few hardy lunchtime drinkers peering out at the foggy beach which is littered with diggers.

I reach the Royal Arcade, which has got a jolly fairground feel to it. There are some quality kiddie rides outside and the sound of fairground music coming out. It is possibly the most enticing place along the front. Once again, I am hit by the smell of polish as I enter. The carpets are clean and the neon ceiling and mirrored columns create an enticing interior.

There is a Mad Wave Motion Theatre at the front. It looks impressive but is unfortunately out of order, with a piece of paper stuck to it. There are more Down the Coast pushers, adding to the “seaside” theme. A row of Magnet Cranes line one wall. They contain quality Disney plush and there is signage to draw customers’ attention to this.

Astra’s Party Time and Crazy Fruits Party dominate the low-stakes gaming area. There is no redemption at The Royal Arcade. There is a Mirage mirrored sweeping arm game with £20 notes hanging from it, which looks interesting.

The same family with 2 boys wander in. The young mum starts playing Chase the Ace and gets really excited, shouting at the machine and at her sons when they come to look!

As for video – there is Taito Battle Gear 4 being played and House of the Dead 4. At the entrance is a Route 66 pusher in prime position, but it is completely empty with no coins inside.

After this, I wander out into the fog and walk up to the deserted Dreamland site. There is no doubt that its current condition is an eyesore for the town and is having a negative impact on the businesses around it.

The good news is that Dreamland will reopen again with rides and attractions. The bad news for Margate is that it won’t happen this year due to complications over who owns the land. Dreamland is a heritage site of immense importance, with the UK’s oldest wooden rollercoaster and a wonderful scenic railway.

The Dreamland Trust has promised rides and attractions will run during 2012 and has announced ways for people to get involved in the renovations to the Scenic Railway. But the opening of the site will now be delayed until 2013 at the earliest.

The bickering between Thanet council and the owners of the land the Margate Town Centre Regeneration Company (MTCRC),has now culminated in a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) being served by the council.

Jonathan Bryant, project director of the Dreamland Trust, said in the press recently “The official opening may be put back slightly, but we are committed to offering attractions this year and next. We have always said this is a phased project.”

So far 65 companies have sent in tenders for work to make the cinema and ballroom watertight. And companies from Europe, America and India have expressed an interest in renovating the listed Scenic Railway.

John Lawson’s Circus and Carter’s Steam Fair are coming to Dreamland this year, and the Dreamland Trust says it is considering installing a viewing platform for people to follow the renovations to the Scenic Railway during 2012.

Let’s hope that there are no further delays to the project for the sake of the remaining arcades and businesses along the front. It is so distressing to see such a beautiful seafront blighted in this way. Thank goodness the whole site will not be given over exclusively to new homes, as a piece of history would be lost forever.

A controversial new gallery has also come to Margate –  The Tate Contemporary (Tracey Emin was born in Margate), this will open in Spring/Summer 2011. This will also bring some regeneration to an area that is badly in need of it.

I stopped for chips at Papps Fish & Chip shop. “The best in Margate,” said a helpful passer-by. Two young girls sat inside gossiping. Can there be anything more depressing than a seaside town on a grey day? Young guys passed by with dogs on leads. But as I drove through the town centre, the pedestrian shopping streets were thronged with people. And, as I drove out of Margate I passed a new out of town shopping complex with a smart Marks and Spencer and a packed car park.

I can’t help but feel that Thanet Council needs to do more to protect and preserve the historical seafront. It’s all very well for the money and investment to go to out of town shopping centres, but there are retail outlets standing empty in Margate town centre and the front looks derelict. And this has not happened overnight. If it wasn’t for the arcades I visited, there would be nothing along that stretch of coast but boarded-up facades.

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