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Empire of Light: Margate roads 'gridlocked' as Marine Terrace shut for filming


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Gridlocked roads, huge traffic queues and seething motorists - this is what it's like driving around Thanet during Empire of Light filming, according to motorists.

Roads in Margate have been periodically shut over the past two months, allowing for filming of the upcoming Sam Mendes blockbuster, starring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth.

Marine Terrace was shut to allow for filming of mods and skinheads for scenes in the Hollywood film. Picture: Roberto Fabiani
Marine Terrace was shut to allow for filming of mods and skinheads for scenes in the Hollywood film. Picture: Roberto Fabiani

But fed-up drivers say when Marine Terrace and Marine Drive - the main routes along the coast through Margate - are shut, it causes mayhem on roads around the district as drivers use other routes to get around.

Maria Seager, director of Central Cars taxi firm, says the filming has had a major impact on services in the Margate area causing them to lose custom.

"Drivers have become increasingly frustrated about the incredible traffic jams combined with the lack of organisation and coordination with the roadworks that are also in place at the moment," she said.

"Some taxi drivers have been so deterred from working that they have taken time off whilst filming continues.

"The gridlock around Margate when Marine Drive is closed and the resulting traffic chaos around Victoria lights has meant that many local journeys have been taking 45 minutes instead of 10.

"Drivers' earnings have therefore been adversely affected.

Dreamland lights up under the guise of the Empire cinema, for filming of the Empire of Light movie. Picture: Roy Foord
Dreamland lights up under the guise of the Empire cinema, for filming of the Empire of Light movie. Picture: Roy Foord

"I know that our job totals for last week were approximately 500 jobs down on the previous week due to the fact that we were unable to cover as much work as a result of the road closures."

She says while she is all for promoting the town with the filming, there should have been a consultation with taxi firms.

"Also maybe some form of compensation paid from the fees that Thanet District Council charged the film company going to the drivers that have suffered with a loss of earnings," she added.

Motorist Malcolm Howard says when the seafront roads are shut for filming, there is mayhem on other routes around the town.

He was on his way to a chiropractor appointment in Westgate-on-Sea, driving from where he lives in Kingsgate, when he was held up for an hour. The journey typically takes about 20 minutes.

"I took a shortcut to Margate seafront and found both sides closed for filming, not that I could see any happening," he said.

'This is causing mayhem. We're a small island, we don't have many options of getting around...'

"It was like a ghost town there, but a mile away there was chaos everywhere. There were queues by Victoria traffic lights, up to Drapers Mill and Tivoli."

He admits he could feel himself getting enraged, something he says he also saw in the faces of other drivers who were having to turn around, and he ended up moving cones on the seafront and driving through.

"I was getting het up and I don't want to feel that way," he said.

"I can understand it's good for the area, that it's nice for Margate, but I couldn't see any filming happening while people were stuck on gridlocked roads.

"People are trying to get to hospital appointments, trying to get to work. I fear that emergency vehicles will be slowed down and lives put at risk as the QEQM hospital is in that area."

He says when he eventually got to Westgate, he was told that people are frequently late for appointments due to the traffic hold-ups.

"The infrastructure can just about cope here, but adding this is causing mayhem," he said.

"We're a small island, we don't have many options of getting around.

"I can understand that Margate will be put on the map when the film is released, but the filming should be done in a way which doesn't bother the locals who pay their road tax."

Sam Mendes - pictured on Margate beach - is the writer and director of Empire of Light. Picture: Frank Leppard
Sam Mendes - pictured on Margate beach - is the writer and director of Empire of Light. Picture: Frank Leppard

Road closures along the seafront are expected to continue throughout the month, with filming scheduled to finish at the end of May.

Transport services, such as Regent Coaches, are being affected by the closures, too.

In a message to customers, the firm said: "Margate Seafront is closed yet again which is affecting service 35 and service 36.

"Neither services can serve the seafront and the traffic in the surrounding routes is making them run late."

But despite the outcry, with many taking to Facebook to voice their fury, a spokesman for Kent Highways says they have only received one complaint about traffic.

"Highways did discuss potential disruption due to road closures for the filming or Empire of Light and worked extremely hard in organising the traffic management measures in place to mitigate this as much as possible," she said.

"Also, we expect this filming project to bring in upwards of £1million to the local economy in Thanet, very much needed revenue for local businesses following the pandemic."

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