December 11 2013 Latest news:
Dean Kilpatrick, Reporter
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Mary Portas visited Margate with a television crew raising fears of reality show
Mary Portas has strongly defended the decision to televise the proposed rebirth of Margate for a Channel 4 documentary series.
Some residents are concerned the shopping guru will turn the plans to rejuvenate Margate into a reality television show at the expense of the town.
The celebrity expert was visiting the seaside town for the first time after being confirmed as a pilot town which will received £100,000 and business advice to help stimulate the ailing High Street which has the highest number of empty shops in the country.
A public meeting was held by Margate’s Town Team to show plans of how they hope to spend the central government grant, but it was Ms Portas who stole the limelight with a full camera crew following her every move.
However, she refuted claims of turning the government scheme into a self-branded television show as she addressed hundreds of people at a public meeting held at the former Woolworth building which has stood empty for more than three years.
Ms Portas said: “This isn’t about me. They (the cameras) are not here to trip you up - they are here to show the journey. You either let the cameras in with me, or I go back on the train and some other town gets it and I would be very upset about that.”
Chairman of the Margate Town Team Robin Vaughan-Lyons said concerns had been raised about the presence of TV cameras and some shop owners felt they were being brushed aside for Portas and her camera team.
He said: “It has been an on and off issue this week. What we did was forward the bid for the good of Margate and Margate high street so of course we are very protective and passionate about our town.
“We want to make sure that it is portrayed well. You could say the eyes of the world are on Margate, so obviously we do not want to be let down.”
Despite the concerns, the Margate Town Team has agreed for their progress to be recorded by TV production company Optomen Television, but are seeking clarification about the “overly restrictive contracts which seem to want to quash and silence” public involvement.
Portas warned the public meeting that the documentary would show “warts and all”, but added that “if we put this on prime TV, people will come” to Margate, which the country has a soft spot for.
A Channel 4 statement read: “Margate is one of three Portas Pilot towns we’re hoping to film with for the purposes of this programme.
“The production company is in early talks and is working closely with local shopkeepers and town representatives to ensure everyone is fully aware of what making the programme will entail.”
Margate is one of four towns in the country to be selected for television coverage, however the £100,000 grant cannot be withheld as the money comes from central government, with Portas only the figurehead of the scheme.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman confirmed: “Our main aim in establishing the Portas Pilots is to trial the recommendations in Mary Portas’ High Street Review to Government and this is entirely independent of any television programmes that may be in the pipeline.
“We are clear that it is up to Portas Pilots themselves whether to take part in any programmes following their progress and that their status as Portas Pilots is absolutely not dependent on their participation in any show.
“Mary’s own statement is clear that she has asked for any restrictive elements of the contract in question to be changed.”
Mary Portas attended the public meeting which discussed aspects of Margate’s bid, including cleaning the streets, contacting landlords of vacant properties and a public wi-fi system.
The row comes a week after the Labour Group in Dartford, who has also won the backing of Portas, said the government grant was a “sticky plaster” to the problems that Dartford’s economy faces.
When asked about Dartford, Ms Portas declined to comment, insisting: “My main focus is on Margate this evening.”