There has been considerable discussion over the summer about the final phase of the Folkestone seafront scheme, in particular the proposed developments on the land next to the Harbour Arm. The public consultations on this scheme began some years ago and the size of the buildings and the number of homes to be constructed was agreed by Folkestone and Hythe District Council when it granted outline planning permission. The location of these new homes in the harbour is also part of the council’s local development plan.
A planning application has not yet been submitted for the design of this final phase of the development, but potential designs have been put forward for public comment. I have discussed these with Sir Roger De Haan, whose Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Company has been responsible for the development of this area. I have been assured that the architect's designs will change as a result of the public consultation and that work is being undertaken now to finalise the new proposals. Folkestone has benefited enormously from the redevelopment of the harbour and seafront. This has brought new life to what was a mostly derelict site, with many rundown buildings that no longer had any purpose. The investment first in new public spaces like the Harbour Arm, and the regeneration of the area around the Old High Street has created jobs, attracted visitors and improved the experience of living and working in Folkestone. In most new developments this kind of work usually comes in after the majority of the new homes have been built, not before. We should be proud as well of the growing reputation of Folkestone as one of the most successful examples of the regeneration of a seaside town in England. I look forward to seeing what the next phase in this journey will bring.
Many residents have been in touch with me, both in writing and in person at my regular constituency surgeries, to discuss the changes that have been made by Stagecoach to the local bus timetables, including for school services. These service alterations have been brought forward by the company themselves and are not a consequence of government cuts in the public support that the buses receive. In fact the government made £3billion of funding available to support bus services at the end of the pandemic through the ‘Bus Back Better’ plan, of which over £1 billion has already been spent.
However, Stagecoach have made clear that they are facing a £12 million shortfall in this financial year, as a consequence of the declining use of bus services, and an approximate 20 per cent increase in their costs, with fuel, wages, parts and other maintenance costs having increased substantially. The use of their buses is down on average 20 per cent, with only 65 per cent of elderly customers having returned to use bus services since the pandemic. This decrease in bus use is not evenly distributed across services, with the use of some services having fallen far more than others. These are all challenges that the company is having to address. Also, bus services can take time to settle down following the start of a new school year, with new students travelling from different locations changing the levels of use of different routes.
I have taken up with Stagecoach the concerns I have received from people who have been affected and will continue to do so. Some services have been restored, and whilst there may be changes, it is important that people can continue to access buses to complete necessary journeys.
Published: Friday 15 September 2023