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Empire of Light: 'Gifted' seafront lights in Margate taken down


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Stunning string lights illuminating a stretch of the Kent coast are being taken down - despite being gifted to the area.

Residents have expressed their anger today as teams have been seen removing the decorative bulbs, which stretch for more than half-a-mile along Margate seafront.

The Margate lights had been put up for the Empire of Light filming. Picture: Paul Johnson
The Margate lights had been put up for the Empire of Light filming. Picture: Paul Johnson
Margate residents spotted the lights being taken down earlier today. Picture: Danny Taylor
Margate residents spotted the lights being taken down earlier today. Picture: Danny Taylor

The display had been erected by crews filming Empire of Light, written and directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes and starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth.

The film's producers wanted to the gift the illuminations to the town, but Thanet District Council decided to decline the offer after concluding the lights would not withstand the weather and were too bright.

A spokesman for the local authority explained: "We conducted an investigation into the likely running costs, ongoing energy and maintenance costs and fees for testing and licensing that would be incurred, should the lights be taken on by us.

"We were informed by the producers that they were experiencing ongoing technical issues with the lights, which had been installed as all-weather equipment.

"They were in fact suffering from water ingress during wet weather due to a manufacturing fault.

Thanet District Council decided not to keep the lights on Margate seafront following a series of tests. Picture: Paul Marsh
Thanet District Council decided not to keep the lights on Margate seafront following a series of tests. Picture: Paul Marsh
Toby Jones and Tom Brooke share a hug on Margate seafront as filming for Empire of Light, also starring Olivia Colman, approached its end. Picture: Roberto Fabiani
Toby Jones and Tom Brooke share a hug on Margate seafront as filming for Empire of Light, also starring Olivia Colman, approached its end. Picture: Roberto Fabiani

"On this basis, these lights are not considered to be suitably resilient for long-term use in the seafront location, and would not withstand the ongoing impact of the weather that they would inevitably be subjected to.

"The lights are too bright to pass a road safety assessment and add to light pollution in the area, with potential impacts on the environment and biodiversity."

Officials say there were also concerns surrounding the display's resilience to wind and rain.

Meanwhile, the lights did not have controls installed to allow them to be timer activated and could not be dimmed easily.

And in the wake of filming coming to an end yesterday, crews have been out this afternoon bringing down the festoon.

Michael Ward and Olivia Colman filming on Margate seafront earlier this month. Picture: Louis Mclaren
Michael Ward and Olivia Colman filming on Margate seafront earlier this month. Picture: Louis Mclaren
Olivia Colman stares out to sea after more than two months of filming in Margate. Picture: Roberto Fabiani
Olivia Colman stares out to sea after more than two months of filming in Margate. Picture: Roberto Fabiani

"While the lights were a positive addition to the Margate streetscene, we confirm that having fully considered the factors already listed, we have taken the difficult decision to decline the offer," the council spokesman added.

"We understand that the Margate Charter Trustees have contacted the Empire of Light production team to ascertain if any part of the infrastructure could remain, to facilitate the installation of more suitable and robust replacement lights."

However, the decision has sparked an angry from backlash from residents online.

One local took to Facebook to brand the decision "disgusting", while another noted "it's a real shame as it would have been lovely seeing them in the summer".

Speaking in March, Cllr Rob Yates, who campaigned for the lights to stay, told KentOnline: "The seafront lights have awoken Margate's spirit, the feeling of a beautiful and well-loved seaside resort that is in need of some love and TLC.

The Margate lights put up for Empire of Light filming. Picture: Rob Yates
The Margate lights put up for Empire of Light filming. Picture: Rob Yates
Cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes survey the scene on Margate seafront. Picture: Frank Leppard
Cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes survey the scene on Margate seafront. Picture: Frank Leppard

"There is overwhelming support for keeping them with residents, businesses and political parties of all colours.

"Residents have approached me recently telling me how it makes them feel safer walking home at night.

"I mentioned this to a local PCSO who told me that in conversation their colleagues agreed it would be beneficial.

"The message is clear, the lights must stay."

Empire of Light is understood to be a love story set in and around a cinema during the 1980s.

Mods took over the seafront as these scenes were filmed. Picture: Roberto Fabiani
Mods took over the seafront as these scenes were filmed. Picture: Roberto Fabiani

Parts of Margate had been transformed during the shoot - which kicked off at the start of March - with Dreamland made to look like a retro-looking picture house named the Empire.

The seafront was lit up between Nayland Rock and the Turner Contemporary.

Mr Mendes also directed 1917, American Beauty and Bond films Skyfall and Spectre.

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