As with other seaside towns in Kent, there is potential for Herne Bay to reinvent itself as a forward-looking dynamic, economically vibrant town, yet nostalgia for a faded golden period stifles speedier progress and regeneration.
Herne Bay is a seaside town on the south side of the Thames estuary. Like many similar seaside towns in Kent, its heyday was back in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and alongside these other towns, there is a reluctance to move on from those heady days of the past.
Herne Bay has been prone to flooding so the Hotchpotch, disorganised urban fabric might be due to incidents rather than town planners. On leaving the uncared for train station, visitors exit on to an uninviting car park and suburban street. The walk to the beachfront is via a well maintained park and shabby streets. As a new visitor it was difficult to know which way to go and no sense of way finding on the seafront. A very British idea of building carparks on seafronts ruins the views. Besides a Turkish restaurant, the food options are Fish and Chips, ice cream or variation of pastries or sandwiches with chips.
Some of the streets in the town centre have been pedestrianised, and a number of small independent and interesting businesses and cafes can be found. Food variety improves, with occasional tempting offer except none of the eateries seem to serve or even stay open after 3pm!
Further along there is beautiful coastline and more considered architecture and planning of paths and roads. Around 300 beach huts run toward the Yacht club and Hampton Pier on one side of town and open coastline the opposite direction, houses are high up and away from the sea.
L to R: 1. Beach Huts, 2. View towards Herne Bay from Hampton Pier/Yacht Club, 3. Remains of original pier, once longest in Britain
The King’s Hall and the pier both have hub potential.
Like other seaside piers, Herne Bay’s suffers from lack of clear identity. Being a Tuesday afternoon only a handful of the small business huts were open yet there was enough to sense that this could be a cool place most of the year round. A well-designed pub-bar, Beer on the Pier, is owned by a local brewer and is very appealing. Ellie, who was running the bar, provided a sober and informative outline of the town, it’s issues and it’s positives. A safe place, jobs for younger people are not easy to come by and the biting wind is the worst weather for trade. “People will brave the rain but the wind is a killer”. The four years she has been living in Herne Bay there has been steady improvement, “more understated development than seen in Margate” (Ellie, Beer on the Pier). A good quality new stage has been erected for the summer season, yet the pier closes most days by 6pm!
The King’s Hall is stuck somewhere in 1980, catering for tribute acts and old rockers.
Every board and notice has some harking back in a nostalgic tone to a previous period rather than sharing that time with the present. Notices with references to guns and war seem almost an obsession across the town with little else being celebrated.
Walking around Herne Bay it is easy to see there are pockets of potential and possibility to curve out an individual identity for the town that could differentiates it from better known neighbours of Whitstable and Margate. With property prices substantially lower, a fast train to London, wide streets and many open spaces, the ingredients are there. A hangover from the Victorian boom means there are many under utilised beautiful building providing opportunity to develop new commercial initiatives.
Beer on the Pier, Herne Bay Pier
Better thought through urban planning could quickly transform the town with much less money than other areas would require. With some big thinking and confidence, Herne Bay just needs to bring its assets from the past into the present and prepare them for a brighter future. As a day visitor, it seems pretty simple ask?
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Images: John McKiernan