On Wednesday we mark not just the start of a new year, but a new decade. This gives us a chance to reflect on the progress that has been made over the last ten years, as well as to look ahead. Change sometimes seems to come slowly when you are looking for it every day, but when we consider the work to regenerate Folkestone since 2010 we can see how the town has benefited from sustained investment. It was in December 2009 that the first regular services commenced on the High Speed rail line to London, and this infrastructure has been so important to the ongoing economic development of East Kent. Thanks to investment from Sir Roger De Haan’s trust we have seen the substantial redevelopment of much of the old town and harbour areas of Folkestone, including the stunning restoration of the former Harbour Arm and rail station. There are 695 more businesses in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency now than in 2010 and 5,000 more people are employed. We have also seen substantial new investment in public infrastructure including new schools in Folkestone and New Romney, and the sea walls at Dymchurch and Broomhill Sands. There has also been the creation of the Three Hills Sports centre in Folkestone and new sports pavilions in Hythe and Hawkinge.
For the last four years is seems that our politics has been dominated by the debate about Brexit, and the general election results in December reflected, I believe, the desire of many people to move on from this. In January we will continue the process of passing the European Union withdrawal agreement so that the UK will leave the EU before the end of the month. We can then focus on the future of our relationship with the rest of Europe and discuss how we want to work together in the years ahead, including on trade and security co-operation, rather than arguing about the things we didn’t like about membership of the EU. This should be a much more constructive discussion than the debates we have been having with other EU leaders throughout the Brexit process. I hope we can look back on this period at the end of the 2020s and say that it marked a new era when we successfully re-set our relationship with the rest of Europe.
Locally there are many events for us to look forward to in the year ahead. In Folkestone in particular we will see the return of the triennial arts festival starting at the end of August, as well as the opening earlier in the summer of the new urban sports centre in Tontine Street. I hope that in 2020 we will finally have resolution on the planning process for the proposed new swimming pool for Hythe at Princes Parade, and progress in the development plans for the new green town at Otterpool Park.
Finally, I would like to send all readers of this column my best wishes for the New Year.