When I was first elected as your Member of Parliament in 2010, the question I was most often asked about the regeneration of Folkestone Harbour was, when would it start? It had been ten years since the ferry port had closed and six years since the derelict land had been bought by Roger De Haan’s Folkestone Seafront Company. The land around the railway station and harbour arm was in disrepair. In the old town, many of the shops were closed and the buildings themselves falling to pieces. No one decided that Folkestone should have been this way, it just faced the same challenges that many other seaside towns were trying to address. They had developed as resort towns for holiday makers that now went elsewhere, built around a sea crossing service to France that no longer existed. We could not turn back the clock, but instead had to look forward to what we knew an amazing place like Folkestone could become.
Over the past thirteen years, led by Sir Roger De Haan’s investment, and with some financial support from the government as well, Folkestone has been transformed. The restoration of the harbour arm and old town brings in visitors from far and wide. New jobs have been created, and businesses launched. Others can see the potential that exists and want to invest here. Folkestone was also one of only three towns in Kent to benefit from a further £20million investment from the government’s levelling-up fund; a big high five and vote of confidence for what has been achieved here so far.
We were fortunate that the Folkestone Seafront Company was able to invest in improving the community spaces in the town, like the harbour arm, Fountain Square and the harbour viaduct and swing bridge, before the main residential development on the seafront was commenced. In most normal developments, the houses and flats are built before the investment in public spaces comes through. The Shoreline development near the Coastal Park on the lower Leas has also shown the commitment of the Folkestone Harbour Company to high quality in design and materials.
Outline planning permission for the Folkestone Harbour masterplan was granted in 2015, covering the height and mass of the buildings at the Harbour and along Marine Parade. The Harbour Plan is the most easterly part of the overall masterplan, and the planning consent granted included permission for between 720 and 1,000 new homes, as well as new commercial space for businesses. The Plan also retains historic structures like the railway station and the Harbour Master’s House, which will remain at the heart of the new development.
The developers have brought forward their design proposals for the Harbour Plan, and whilst no planning application has yet been submitted for these buildings, now is an important moment for everyone to have their say. However, I remain committed to the delivery of the Harbour Plan, as I have always done, as a major part of the regeneration strategy for Folkestone.