£13m vision to turn century-old hall into Kent's premier concert venue – Kent Online

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05:00, 11 June 2022
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Council bosses believe a drastic overhaul of the King’s Hall in Herne Bay can help it become the number-one music venue in Kent.
The renovation of the old theatre is part of a bold £13 million vision to develop the town’s best-known assets – with the bandstand, clock tower and memorial park also in line for upgrades.
Canterbury City Council, which owns the King’s Hall, admits the seafront attraction is outdated and underutilised in its current form.
But officers are confident the once-thriving venue is brimming with potential – and believe a well-executed revamp of its offering can put the town “firmly on the UK map” as a top destination.
They want to expand its capacity, open a seafront bar/cafe, improve acoustics and create a professional music production suite.
The work is hoped to attract “substantially more overnight visitors to the town” and boost commercial investment.
In order to make the plans become reality, the council is formulating a bid for a share of the government’s £4.6 billion Levelling Up Fund – aimed at helping often-overlooked places by injecting money into transport, regeneration and cultural projects.
Other proposals under consideration include tapping into the world of ‘augmented reality’ – allowing mobile phone users to see virtual representations of how the town looked hundreds of years ago as they walk along.
The bandstand and clock tower are also set to be restored, while power will be provided at the memorial park to help with the hosting of events, and cycling and walking routes will be improved.
The key renovation, however, is focused on the transformation of the King’s Hall – potentially boosting its capacity to 1,200.
“The vision is for it to become the music centre for Kent: a pioneering, access-for-all cultural, creative and community destination that uses music as the medium to entertain, inspire, engage and educate,” a council report says.
“The venue will operate across a range of channels to become a seven-day-a-week multi-platform music hub with a national profile, unique to the south of England.
“It is [currently] significantly impeded by limitations to capacity, outdated decor and seating, poor acoustics and technology, an inflexible performance area and the inefficient use of non-performance spaces.
“It is the only large music venue of its size in the constituency, including Canterbury, presenting a huge potential audience.”
The historic venue was originally a pavilion before being developed as the King Edward VII Memorial Hall in 1913 in memory of the late king.
A public consultation on the new proposals received a positive reaction from residents, with 74% in favour of investing in the seafront landmarks.
Respondents echoed the council’s stance that the King’s Hall is “crying out for some attention” in order for it to become a “magnet” for entertainment.
Councillors discussed the Herne Bay plans at a meeting of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee ahead of submitting an application for funding before the deadline of July 6.
Cllr Ian Stockley said: “We’ve been working on the King’s Hall for many, many years. It’d be great to have a cash injection – we all know that without it, it’s not going anywhere, so this is vital.
“One of the problems is it’s out on a limb. It used to be one of the places people wanted to go to, but the town has moved towards the clock tower and the pier.
“So we need to encourage footfall or cycling between them, modal shift away from the motor car and motorbikes – dare I say motorbikes in Herne Bay, probably not.
“We do have issues with that, and we need to address them with traffic calming.
“At present, it is a bit lawless in terms of motor vehicles and noise. It’s not necessarily the nicest place.”
Council leader Ben Fitter-Harding previously said the project could help Herne Bay “leapfrog other British seaside offerings” and “set it apart from other coastal locations in Kent and attract many more people from across the country”.
The aspirations for the bandstand are centred on creating a “space for hospitality, entertainment as well as a new bike hub, toilets and changing facilities to restore its place as a central seafront meeting point and activity hub”.
The clock tower, meanwhile, will be upgraded with ‘landmark lighting’.
Waymarked walking and cycling routes linking the train station, memorial park, town centre and seafront promenade are also planned.
Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Neil Baker outlined how the redevelopment needs to plan for the future.
“The Olympics that have been very successful away from the competitive element have been the ones that have actually driven regeneration in the long-term,” he said.
“That’s something we need to grasp here.
“The projects would be great, but we don’t want the King’s Hall suddenly looking really nice but then six months later the cracks literally start appearing again.
“If we can do that, this will put us on the road to somewhere incredibly good. It’s not the hugest amount of money in the world but it could be the spark that makes the difference.”
The Conservative also raised the possibility of utilising augmented reality technology – similar to the Pokemon GO craze of 2016 – to bolster the town’s visual history offering.
He said: “There’s no reason why you can’t walk along Herne Bay seafront, hold up your phone and see the pier as it was projected in today’s image.
“It’s not the most expensive technology in the world. Somewhere which would benefit hugely would be Reculver Towers.
“Imagine sitting there having your coffee, holding it up, and you could watch a Roman battle almost in front of you.
“We could do that so well. I think it would bring us a little further on than we are.”
The Canterbury district has been ranked by the government as a high-priority location, meaning it stands a good chance of claiming the Levelling Up cash.
Due to Herne Bay falling in a different parliamentary constituency to Canterbury, the council has the opportunity to launch a separate bid of £20 million for the city.

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