Over the last eight years we have seen a tremendous change in investment into our district for new homes and businesses. This has created new jobs and opportunities as well as supporting the regeneration of the harbour and old town areas of Folkestone in particular. Much of this has been led by private investors, not least through Sir Roger De Haan’s Creative Foundation and Sports Trust, and the Folkestone Seafront development scheme. There has also been money from the government to support this regeneration through the East Kent Growth Fund, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Homes England. Vitally though Folkestone and Hythe District Council has given a practical and strategic lead in supporting planning and development for the future, both by working constructively with those looking to invest into our area, and also creating their own vision as they have done with the proposals for Otterpool Garden Town.
Earlier in the year I was asked to Chair the Folkestone and Hythe accelerated delivery board, which brings together the District Council with other significant local stakeholders, to review the investment and regeneration plans for our area. This has also given me the ideal opportunity to see this long-term planning in action, and last week following the disappointing announcement that Debenhams will be closing its store in Folkestone, we saw the benefit of this approach.
It has been known for some time that the Debenhams group was in difficultly, caused in part from long term changes to peoples shopping habits which have seen traditional department stores like these struggle. However, for the people that work at Debenhams, the news that they will be closing in 2020 still comes as a hard blow. Rather than wait though for this announcement to be made, Folkestone and Hythe District council has been in constructive talks about regeneration plans for this area with both the landlord of the Debenhams store in the town, and Ellandi, the property company which owns the Bouverie Place centre. As many people now shop online, coming into the town centre has to be an experience which offers something new. We’ve seen the benefit of this in the old High Street with the opening of new independent businesses which offer something unique to their customers. In other parts of the town centre it might also mean thinking about other offers which will bring people into Folkestone. As a result of discussions that have already taken place with the property owners, the Council has been considering allowing a change of use for the Debenhams store to allow the creation of a new cinema with food and drink outlets, if another retailer cannot be found to take it over. No-one would want to see this building sitting empty, so it’s right that the Council is working with partners now to seen plans being prepared for its future use, before Debenhams moves out.
On Thursday 2nd May we have elections for our District, town and parish councils. These are important to the future of our area, and whilst national politics might currently be dominating the news, we must also lookout for what’s best for our local communities as well. I hope that you will use your vote and make sure that your voice is heard.