Last week Folkestone was hailed by the government as one of the ‘rising stars’ of town centre regeneration in England because of the “great strides made in improving their local high street”. It was one of ten runners up from across the country in the Great British High Streets competition, which is not bad going. Receiving this award is a reflection of the hard work of many people in the town who are dedicated to improving the town centre economy. Since the Folkestone Town Team was established three years ago we have seen much closer working between local businesses and the town and district councils. This has helped to improve parking, seen street signage to direct visitors to local attractions introduced and, through excellent initiatives like the Folkestone pop-up shop in Guildhall Street, given new life to empty buildings.
The work of the Creative Foundation in Folkestone also underlines the progress that the town has made over the last three years. Additional buildings in the Old High Street and Tontine Street are being refurbished to meet the growing demand for new business and retail space. The Workshop in Tontine Street, a building designed to anticipate the growing interest from media and creative businesses to locate in Folkestone is now full. The opening up of the harbour arm this summer has attracted new visitors to the town, as well as creating a wonderful public space for everyone to enjoy. It is a foretaste as well of the amazing potential that the regeneration of Folkestone’s sea front has to change the economy of our town and district. The £5million grant we secured from the government to support the development in the harbour should enable works to begin in earnest on this next year.
Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced a radical new plan to give local councils control over business rates by 2020. The government will also abolish the Uniform Business Rate. That’s the single, national tax rate imposed on every council. Any local area will be able to cut business rates as much as they like, to win new jobs and generate wealth. This means that our local council would be able to offer more attractive business rates to firms locating in the town centres or in areas in need of regeneration, for example. The more business activity the council is able to support in the district, the greater the revenues that will available for local services. This will be one of the greatest changes in business taxation policy in living memory and with the regeneration of Folkestone already well on its way, our area could be one of the big winners in Kent from this new approach.
On Friday last week, I was delighted to welcome back to Folkestone, Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport, who went to school in the town. We visited the Folkestone Sports Centre and the Three Hills Sports complex on Cheriton Road. The Shepway Sports Trust also gave a presentation on their work across the district to improve the rates of participation on sport and improve access to facilities and coaching. There's a lot of exciting things happening with sport in Shepway and it was a great opportunity to show them off to the minister in charge of policy nationally.