Friday, April 20 2012
It was good to see that nearly half a million people visited Turner Contemporary in its first year.
It was always a gamble going ahead with the £17m project but Kent County Council and arts funders recognised that culture can contribute to economic regeneration.
They looked at the example of the Guggenheim in Bilbao and hoped to replicate that transformation in Margate and East Kent.
Despite the cynicism of many locals, the early signs are encouraging. While the town centre may still leave something to be desired, there is evidence that new businesses are moving in, that restaurants are busier.
It’s early days, but you sense a greater buzz around the place.
Turner was not an instant success, and the big numbers may slightly flatter to deceive.
There will always be a strong interest in something new, and the fact that admission is free can only help. But the initial show was disappointing.
It was not uncommon to hear first-time visitors declare it would be the last time. Nice building and great seaside location, shame about the content, was a typical response. A single Turner was not enough to get the pulses racing. No wonder some London commentators were dismissive.
But The Kiss, the current exhibition of Turner drawings and sketches - Turner and the Elements - and the Hamish Fulton’s Walk gave the gallery a real artistic reason for visiting.
Turner C turned a corner with Turner J M W and the next big one - Tracey Emin - will bring even more national and international prominence.
The latest numbers for economic benefit to East Kent - £13.8m - are arguable as they contain £7.6m of publicity value derived from media coverage.
It is an uncertain valuation, but nevertheless, there is no doubt that coverage has brought, and will bring, visitors to Margate. This year, the international visitor numbers are relatively low - just 2% - and Guggenheim can surely beat that tiny proportion. But it’s a start. And trains will speed up after a £5m upgrade of the Ashford - Thanet track.
Cultural regeneration is a slow burn. There is srtill a long way to go but the early signs for the economy Margate and East Kent are encouraging.
Thursday, March 10 2011
It's often said that the only time that politicians really understand issues facing ordinary people is when they experience them themselves. So, it was interesting to hear the science minister David Willetts recount his "painfully slow" train journey from London to east Kent recently in the wake of the Pfizer announcement.
Council leaders, MPs and businesses have been banging on about the poor rail and road connections to this part of the county for years and governments have been - in Willetts' own words - painfully slow responding to them. True, the East Kent Access road is slowly edging towards completion and did get a decent slice of government cash to the tune of £85m under the previous government for the last stage but the project has hardly been a model of efficient procurement.
So, it will be intriguing to see if Pfizer's departure from its Sandwich site will focus the government's mind on doing something to make sure that connections - particularly by rail - are beefed up.
The Pfizer taskforce headed by KCC leader Paul Carter is expected to deliver its first report to the government within days and I've every expectation that recommendations for improving transport connections will feature significantly.
David Willetts chose his words carefully when addressing the issue in the Adjounment Debate on Pfizer's decision this week but said enough, in my view, to indicate that he recognised there was a genuine problem. If the government is to appear credible about its determination to limit the damage to the Kent economy caused by Pfizer's departure, then doing something to bring rail services within an hour of London has to be a priority. And it has to be done sooner rather than later.
As Laura Sandys, the local MP, has warned there are potentially 7,000 jobs at risk because of Pfizer's decision and action needs to be swift.