When the internationally renowned artist Banksy recently placed one of his works (worth an estimated £400,000) on a wall at Clacton on Sea it was scrubbed off by the council. Yet the appearance of one of his distinctive paintings in Folkestone produced an entirely different response. Banksy's painting near Payers Park, was instantly protected by the council. People have been visiting the town just to see the artwork and queuing up to have their picture taken with it. You can even now buy t-shirts with the design on the front. What a clear advert this is for the different state of mind that exists in these two coastal towns. Folkestone is a town that is brimming with renewed confidence, open to new ideas and looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Banksy's painting, arriving with perfect timing during the middle of the Folkestone Triennial arts festival, feels like another external endorsement for the progress our town and district is making. It seems that every week there is some positive write up in the national media about what our area has to offer; what to see, where to eat, and why now is the right time to move here. Local property agents continue to report the continued strong interest they receive from people looking to locate here from London and other parts of the South East.
This week we received a further endorsement from the government when Folkestone was shortlisted by the Department for Communities for its prize to find the best high streets in Britain. Folkestone has been placed in the final three towns in line to receive the award in the category for coastal towns. The Department was clearly impressed with the work of the Town Team in helping to co-ordinate local events, and in the proactive work of Peter Phillips, the Town Sprucer.
It was just two weeks ago that the Coastal Communities Minister Penny Mordaunt, joined me in Folkestone to look at the regeneration work that has been completed so far by the Creative Foundation in the old town area. We also looked at the plans for the new development on the seafront. The visit clearly made a strong impression on her and it would be a fitting recognition of the hard work of so many people who are helping to promote Folkestone if the town town received this high street award.
Over the last two weeks there has been concern as well about the decision to place 130 asylum seekers in the Grand Burstin hotel, whilst they were waiting to be transferred to more secure accommodation. It was wrong to place them in the town in this way, but the Home Office assured us that it was a temporary measure and that they would be moved on within two weeks. I am pleased that the Home Office has kept to the promise it made to me and Shepway Council, and that all of the asylum seekers had departed by Monday this week; ahead of the deadline that had been set.