Here’s an interesting view of Margate, which takes in two things that we love here at Revolutionary Arts HQ – art and green energy. Which one can save a seaside town?
The rise in cheap foreign package holidays, local employers facing a precarious future and the decline of attractions such as amusement park Dreamland meant the resort was on its knees. A long-promised contemporary art gallery was so mired in political wrangling that many locals were convinced it would never be built.
What Margate had left – virtually all it had left – was its beaches and seascape, including skies that artist JMW Turner described as ‘the loveliest in all Europe’.
So when a plan was hatched to build the world’s third largest offshore wind farm slap bang in the middle of this view, there was, understandably, uproar.
There was a special irony in the fact that the promised art gallery was to capitalise on that very link with the admiring Turner and market that same seascape as Margate’s crown jewel.
Opposition to wind farms in the British landscape has been often been vicious, with nay-sayers arguing that the benefits of clean energy are outweighed by the blot on our historic landscapes. The National Trust for Scotland has just this month put its weight behind a campaign against a 67-turbine project in the Monadhliath mountains.
Elsewhere, the seascape is considered just as precious – developers have scaled back plans for a giant offshore wind farm off Worthing, following protests. East Kent’s opponents to the Thanet Wind Farm argued that Margate’s one remaining asset was about to be sold off to big business.
But the Thanet Wind Farm went ahead and today, four years after it opened, Margate is a very different town – and opinions on the turbines have also shifted.
Situated in a prime site overlooking the sea, the Turner Contemporary gallery opened its doors three and a half years ago. Its long-awaited arrival cemented a widely-applauded art-led regeneration of the area that has seen shops, cafes and artists’ workspaces springing up in the neglected Old Town, nearby.
Designer Wayne Hemingway is leading a multi-million pound project to rebuild Dreamland as a heritage theme park, and the world’s press has rediscovered the town’s sandy charms, heaping it with middle-class praise.
But the area’s biggest employer, Pfizer, has largely upped sticks, causing around 2,000 job losses – and the promise that the wind farm itself would create ‘hundreds of new jobs’ has also floated away on the breeze.
Now owned by Swedish energy company Vattenfall, controversy continued to dog Thanet Wind Farm. Because the UK lacks the capacity for building turbines, 80% of the construction budget went to foreign companies and only 21 of the promised local jobs have actually materialised.
In fact, it has been the onshore newcomer – the Turner Contemporary gallery – that has been the axis around which Margate has achieved regeneration.
But just as locals are learning (bumpily) to rub along with the slightly strange arty newcomers, both types of residents have largely warmed to the sometimes ghostly, sometimes stark white turbines that pepper the horizon.
Perhaps an affinity with the sea itself influences local attitudes to renewable energy.
A Margate-based artist commented: ‘I approve of wind energy, so I’m not complaining – and they are beautiful in themselves. But there’s no no sense of an infinite sea going on forever; they bring you up short.’
Golfers enjoying the delights of the area’s links courses might be expected to be among the most vociferous opponents to the scheme – and indeed they were. But one told us that feelings are softening. She said: ‘They look different colours depending on the weather. At first I thought they spoiled the view – now I’d miss them.’
What do you think about offshore windfarms? Beautiful or blight? We’d love to know your views.
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