A new report has revealed the huge disparity between Ramsgate’s stunning harbour area and its “apocalyptic” high street.
The findings from a community survey - part of the Future Ramsgate Investment Plan - show that while people love the historic marina, they believe more investment is needed in the town centre to turn its fortunes around.
Knife crime, loutish behaviour and drug use are all raised in the report among comments from survey respondents, of whom many believe the town to be dirty, unkempt and unsafe.
Ramsgate has arguably been living in the shadows of trendier Margate during the latter’s headline-grabbing renaissance over the past decade.
But the historic town, with its bars and restaurants around the harbour and popular beach, has in fact been turning heads with Londoners beating a trail to snap up properties.
Yet while newcomers revel at its architecture and harbour, the report - part of a push to bring more investment into Ramsgate - reveals other concerns relating to anti-social behaviour and the rundown appearance of the high street.
Some 776 people took part in the engagement survey, carried out by Pleydell Smithyman Ltd on behalf of Thanet District Council, which involved conversations with residents, businesses and organisations.
While some participants described the town as “beautiful, stunning and attractive”, only 9% of people thought the town is clean and well-looked after.
One said: “Neglected, dirty, unkempt, badly maintained, nightmare parking overall. This is reality.” While another stated: “It’s terribly rundown. It’s dirty and at times it’s not safe to go there.”
Large groups hanging around, drunk males and drug-taking were also highlighted as concerns from people living in the town. In one shocking part of the report, it refers to a Safer Streets Fund Application which engaged with young people and found they feel unsafe, pointing to knife crime as “a real issue”.
People with disabilities and learning difficulties also specifically mentioned feeling unsafe and worried about anti-social behaviour.
“It’s terribly rundown. It’s dirty and at times it’s not safe to go there...”
“You can’t use disabled toilets because they’re being used for drug taking,” they added.
The report found a quarter of people agreed with the statement ‘I feel safe when I visit’, but that this was mainly from those who have only lived in Thanet for three years or less.
Among those who have lived in Ramsgate for 10 years or more, the agreement level decreased.
Overall, 57.7% of participants strongly disagreed that the town centre is thriving and only 4% of respondents agreed there are opportunities for young people, which is connected to low attainment, limited aspiration and anti-social behaviour.
The appearance and future of the town centre was a particular area of concern. One respondent said: “After seeing a stunning harbour, one quickly comes across the juxtaposition of an apocalyptic high street.”
Others called for the high street to get a makeover: “I feel passionately about the town centre being made welcoming, clean and refreshed for our community and visitors. It would make a huge positive impact.”
The problem with empty shops being left in a “disgraceful state” was also raised and the report found that a vibrant and active high street was an aspiration for the community.
However, while the town centre took a bashing, the harbour, architecture and beach were heaped with praise - although residents called for the better promotion of these assets.
“Ramsgate has the most stunning, fascinating harbour,” said one respondent.
“The beach is always beautiful and the coastline endlessly breathtaking.”
“After seeing a stunning harbour, one quickly comes across the juxtaposition of an apocalyptic high street...”
While another added: “Ramsgate harbour and our beautiful architecture are the jewels in the crown of Thanet but they need polishing.”
Respondents were asked which geographical areas should be the focus of investment and regeneration and 61% said the town centre.
Unused or underused buildings that people want to see activated include the former Argos, New Look store, the old fire station, the Clockhouse and Pier Yard, Granville Theatre and the Smack Boys.
Already investment is being poured into the seafront with the Royal Sands development at the previously derelict Pleasurama site, and also the Royal Victoria Pavilion Wetherspoon which opened in what was a former seafront dance hall and then casino.
The Future Ramsgate Investment Plan is aimed at making the most of the town’s assets and delivering a shared vision to transform and regenerate the town.
Thanet District Council says it wants to create a plan for the future of Ramsgate that supports a thriving centre.
Funding of £2.7m has already been secured through the government’s Future High Street Fund and almost £602,000 as part of the High Streets Heritage Action Zone.
The council has recently received £25,000 - awarded by Historic England - to fund specialist works to the Pulhamite rocks at Madeira Walk and Albion Gardens.
A bid has also just been submitted for £19.8m through the government’s Levelling Up fund to support the port, the Royal Harbour and for “assets to connect to opportunity”.
Thanet council leader Cllr Ash Ashbee says it is a comprehensive and exciting bid which details ambitious plans for the future of the town.
“We continue to wait for feedback from the government on the outcome, which we expect to receive later on this year,” she added.
Acting Chief Inspector Paul Barrell, of Thanet Local Policing Team, says Kent Police is working with partners to ensure Ramsgate remains a safe and pleasant place to live, work and visit.
"We have a dedicated team who patrol the town centre daily as well as response officers and other teams who are always on hand to attend emergency calls," he said.
"In addition to this, Kent Police and Thanet District Council, working with the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, have secured £387,000 in safer streets funding for additional CCTV cameras, street lighting and anti-theft equipment in Ramsgate, as well as a new programme around education for young people and their families.
"Our Community Safety Unit is committed to tackling any anti-social behaviour in the town and I urge anyone who witnesses offences or has concerns to report them to us through our website, by dialling 101, or 999 if a crime is in progress. We can then ensure we respond to any worries and take the appropriate action."