I have not, in the interests of those that I represent, always seen eye to eye with City Hall. This was true under a Liberal administration that asked the Town which swimming pool design it preferred and then went ahead and built the least favourite one, that sought to claim credit for a seafront paid for by a Conservative government through sea-defence funding and that made a pre-election promise to re-build the pier and failed to deliver. It is equally true of an administration that wants to construct a sports hall at the back of the town with inadequate access and parking, that seeks to re-build the Marlow Theatre, at a cost of £20 million plus, in the centre of an already overcrowded city and that rejected plans for a new hotel in Beltinge.
I have long felt that the City Fathers have taken a metro-centric “within the City Walls” view of the District at the expense of the majority of the population that live not in the City centre but on the coastal strip. That said, I regard with some disdain the bandwagon that has been set rolling in an endeavour to preserve the Tourist Information Centre in its present form.
Do not misunderstand me: I like the TIC, I admire its hardworking, friendly and diligent staff and I think that the display of goods, chattels and services on offer is both colourful and attractive. I do not, though, think that this outlet can or should be set in aspic and preserved and I think that a suggestion that we should re-locate the Council offices in what is, at the end of the day, a glorified conservatory is barmy even by woolly-headed Liberal Democrat standards. Populist the idea may be but practical it is not. (This proposal, remember, comes from Councillors who, when they had the chance, failed to seize the opportunity to roof the bandstand and turn it into a twelve month of the year facility!)
The present administration led by John Gilbey wants to raise the tourism offer in both Whitstable and Herne Bay and, in order to do so, seeks to take advantage of modern technology to improve the information services not only at the popular bandstand and pier locations but at other sites throughout the Town.
There is also no question of abandoning the face-to-face information service solely in favour of push-button service points. With vacant space available for re-vamping within the Council offices in the centre of the Town in William Street there is no reason why a far more comprehensive service offering, perhaps, the sale of rail, coach and bus tickets as well as accommodation and entertainment bookings and traditional information should not be introduced. Such a unit will have to be staffed and I see no reason why those who currently do an excellent job and who do not wish to be otherwise deployed should not continue to man a new TIC.
Neither is there any intention to allow the bandstand site to remain vacant or to see it occupied by a second rate tenant. It is a valuable location in which there is already much interest and I would hope and expect that in tandem with the upgrading of the tourist offer we shall see this space put to good use in the interests of both visitors and residents.
We have, do we not, a choice. We either allow Herne Bay to sink further into genteel decline or we look to innovative and exciting changes in retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment facilities that are compatible with the demands of 21st century tourists from home and overseas and that simultaneously improve the quality of life and opportunity for those living in the Town. We can argue the toss over what shape new developments should take and we can agree to disagree, if necessary, over the route forward. We cannot, though, any longer allow ourselves the luxury of standing still and I personally applaud the endeavours of an administration that at last appears to have discovered the Canterbury coastline and wants to make things happen in Herne Bay.
Roger Gale M.P. (July 9th 2008)