Published: 15:44, 04 April 2021
| Updated: 16:11, 04 April 2021
A vision to regenerate a Kent town and draw wealthy people to its high street to part with their cash after the pandemic has been announced.
Herne Bay councillors – all of whom are Conservatives – believe their proposals for the area will help tidy up its main shopping district and trigger greater investment locally.
Their ideas, which they hope will be enshrined in the district’s updated Local Plan, will include measures to try to “shorten” the high street by encouraging bids to convert long-empty shops into cafes, restaurants and homes.
They are also discussing the merits of pedestrianising Central Parade, between Pier Avenue and Station Road, as well as a stretch of High Street.
More speed limits may be cut through the town centre as well to encourage a “café culture” atmosphere.
Greenhill councillor Dan Watkins believes such changes will stem the flow of shoppers leaving Herne Bay to places like Canterbury and Westwood Cross in Broadstairs.
He told KentOnline: “We need to make some changes to combat the challenges from online shopping and the post-pandemic world.
“We’ve already got quite a few vacant shops, and we don’t expect a number of them to open back up as retailers.
“We might have to change these shops towards the edges of High Street and Mortimer Street in order to get them contributing towards a vibrant high street.
“It might be they’re changed into a café or some kind of restaurant, and sometimes it might be residential.
“There’s no point kidding ourselves we’ll be able to maintain so many shops now.
“We want to make sure people with a bit more money spend it in the town.”
Cllr Watkins says they will encourage the shops to be transformed by adjusting planning policies to make it easier to convert former stores into other types of premises.
The plan to pedestrianise the stretch of Central Parade, which was first mooted last year, would create a plaza outside the entrance to the pier.
The Tories say this area could be used to house eateries with outdoor seating.
Beltinge councillor Ian Stockley added: “We must be one of the few towns in Kent where we’ve got a 30mph limit through the centre of it.
“It’s not conducive to putting tables out and having a café culture. We’re trying to make it a more friendly place by, in some instances, reducing vehicular access and stopping the through traffic.”
'It's not conducive to putting tables out and having a café culture...'
Town councillors are currently discussing the proposals with city council officers, who are drawing up the new Local Plan.
The document, which will act as the council’s development blueprint, is expected to be published and released for consultation later this year.
Cllr Watkins continued: “Are we capturing people with more money to spend? I don’t think we’re doing as well as we could – we’re punching below our weight.
“The details are being thrashed out at the moment with the Local Plan, but it’s going to be in line with this. The goal is for the Local Plan to be published and go to consultation in about two months’ time.”