A personal view
As you stand there and look at the thing, it is heavy, draining, dispiriting. It is drab, dreary and depressing, a homage to grey, lumpish 1960s brutalism. It looks like a prison, or an army barracks or an old abandoned mill: a forbidding monstrosity in concrete, the most environmentally unfriendly building material.
With a feeling of dread, you retreat from its overbearing presence, from this alien monolith seemingly dropped from the darkest reaches of space. But that’s the South Bank for you.
Ah, but no: this is Whitstable seafront. How did such a gargantuan tombstone land here?
It’s called the Warehouse, and it’s the latest act in the “modernising” of Whitstable: turning what was a quirky, if slightly run-down and homely seaside town into London-on-Sea.
The Warehouse is a suitable title for this ugly lump of pseudo-industrial detritus. I wouldn’t have believed it, but its awful appearance makes me nostalgic for the slightly less awful appearance of its predecessor: the old, rusty tin shed known as the tile warehouse. Ah, of course: that’s where the name came from. How inventive and original.
Warehouse. Well, it’s certainly some sort of house. Or actually a collection of them. A couple going for the princely sum of £1.4 million, so I read. Some people will no doubt have made a packet out of land sold off for a pittance.
The estate agent selling the range of properties stated that some would make ideal holiday lets. Or even second homes? I’m sure we are all glad to hear that. It’s my humble opinion that no-one should own more than one home — a simple view, but then I’m a simple man.
The development is just the latest act in the uglification of Whitstable — like the “packet of three” in Northwood Road, or the one on the junction of Pier Avenue and Tankerton Road, this one bearing all the looks of a public convenience. But at least they are tucked away somewhat in the hinterland. The Warehouse’s vicious assault on the look of the seafront tempts me to quote a royal of our acquaintance: it looks like “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of an old and dear friend”.
I hesitate to invoke manifestations of the unacceptable face of capitalism realised in these brute facades — and the town does need inward investment and job creation. A gelato parlour just opened up at the Warehouse. Perhaps that will do the economic trick: we must all pitch in and eat more ice-cream!
As far as Whitstable is concerned, the planning department of Canterbury City Council should be called the “build it anywhere you like department — and make its appearance as horrendous as possible”. It’s all the more argument for the proposal that Whitstable should have its own town council. Because isn’t localism supposed to be the idea of the day? But perhaps not: the notion’s just more empty rhetoric, I guess.
In a fantasy world, Whitstable residents could purchase the Warehouse by compulsory order and turn it into town council offices and community facilities to offer entertainments, and make a bob or two. And another public toilet wouldn’t go amiss. It certainly looks the part.
I have included photos, but I suggest you go and take a look for yourself, if you haven’t already done so. Don’t forget to take a sick bag.
Robert A Cambridge lives in Whitstable — “well, at least since 2001 when I moved from Beckenham. Yes, I’m a DFL. But I’m entitled to challenge my surroundings wherever I happen to be.”
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The warehouse that the buildings replaced was a ramshackle blight on the landscape of the town. It had to be replaced. The questions posed by its development are surely:
– how is change to be accommodated in an existing environment – are developments meant to be added just to copy what is there or are they to contribute something new to the landscape from our own age and time ?
– what should be the requirements for use in new developments – homes, rental units, stores ?
A very large proportion of Whitstable citizens make their living from tourists and visitors. These include the owners and occupants of stores, builders, cleaners, property and pub owners. The current good fortune of Whitstable owes much to the infusion of money from London, whether as visitors or owners of property. I think it dangerous to establish lines of conflict against incomers and equally dangerous to view the town as something of a museum. The people who built the town, the capitalists who built the coal port and the railway, those who built the roads named after Victorian politicians and the churches that we now view as part of the heritage certainly did not share the view that the Whitstable landscape was a static environment. The thing we like now were revolutionary once.
Whitstable has a nice visual environment. My copy of Pevsner says there is little of architectural merit here worthy of a perambulation. I would disagree, but what I see is a melange of different contributions over a wide period of time with each age adding to the next. I personally think the new development has surprising merit and has taken elements of the old and added new materials to the mix. I also like ice cream.
Be nice if people from the town could afford to live there though, wouldn’t it? Be nice if someone built some social housing too. Whitstable is turning into millionaire’s row: all for the the visitors, none for the rest of us. This is changing the character of the town, and not for the better.
Most of the people in Whitstable now are londerners. So they provide the income ,not for local Whitstable people but people who have moved in 20 years ago. Whitstable is nothing like what it used to be. Don’t confuse what Whitstable used to be to what it is now. Just my thoughts having roots in this town that go back to 1805. Just saying. Whitstable was a shithole…..now its a gentrified version of that.