Turning round a ghost town. No shopper involvement necessary.
At the end of March 2019, 15% or rather 62 shops were vacant in the Primary and Secondary shopping areas of Folkestone town centre. Analysis by Folkestone & Hythe District Council anticipate this could rise to a 25.5% vacancy rate. This would mean one in four premises would be empty. To put that another way, we would have 106 vacant retail properties. Would that constitute a ghost town?
Prior to the announcement of the closure of Debenhams, the Council submitted a £45,000 bid to the The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – Future High Streets Fund. They have also asked for assistance from an Independent Panel of Experts that MHCLG will put together, for realising the ambitions and the growth potential of Folkestone. There is no mention of Hythe, New Romney or Lydd in the bid submission.
In bid documents sent by Folkestone & Hythe District Council to the Future High Streets Fund, at the end of March 2019 they asked for just £45,000 from a £675 million pot to make our district high streets and town centres fit for the future, the document states at page 4:
Within Folkestone’s Primary and Secondary shopping areas, there are 415 units which together provide 860 metres of unit frontage. The overall vacancy rate is 14.7%, with 11.4% of the retail frontage footage in these units.
It goes onto say at page 6
the health of Folkestone’s shopping area is expected to suffer further in light of imminent business decisions expected across the retail, banking and leisure sectors and our analysis indicate that the shop vacancy rate could increase to as much as 25.5% in the Primary shopping area and potentially substantial job losses.
During the election campaign our public face made it clear that Folkestone was becoming like a ghost town, with 50 vacant retail premises.The Council have openly admitted we could lose 1 in 4 shops, or to put that into an understandable number, 106 shops, more than double what our public face counted back in March 2019.
The bid document also makes clear “Folkestone is increasingly becoming a town of ‘two halves’”
A recent study shows that there are 85,000 residents within Folkestone’s Principal Catchment area (pictured) for comparison goods with 26,000 being active shoppers. Unfortunately, Folkestone currently achieves only an 18% penetration as the main shopping location within this area, with some 22% shopping online and the remainder going to nearby neighbouring centres such as Ashford, Canterbury and Dover.
Now the Council have stumped up £3 million towards our town and set up the Folkestone & Hythe Accelerated Delivery Board, chaired by local MP Damian Collins which includes representatives from Ellandi – owners of Folkestone’s
Bouverie Place shopping centre, Homes England, Kent County Council, Network Rail, Creative Foundation, Folkestone Town Team, Folkestone Harbour Company, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, Kent & Medway Economic Partnership, the South East LEP and the Folkestone & Hythe Business Advisory Board.
The Council submitted bid asks for a £15,000 contribution towards developing a capital programme and a £30,000 contribution to a transport study to optimise the pedestrian and transport flows across the town to maximise the town’s growth potential. In addition to funding, the council seek the expertise and input of the Independent Panel of Experts that MHCLG will establish to ensure the Council’s plans are comprehensive, based on best practise and are the most appropriate for realising the ambitions and the growth potential of Folkestone.
So our town will be regenerated by input from all of those who sit on any of the the board/committee’s above, but they haven’t included the other important stakeholder in this regeneration, you the public. We wonder what you might like to see our Town Centres to look like. After all you do spend your money there, so we believe your opinion matters.
The key elements of the Council plans for the town centre include:
Considering new uses for under-utilised retail floorspace or units under threat, including conversion to alternative uses such as entertainment, leisure and community facilities which will lead to greater diversity of uses within the town centre.
Bringing forward development opportunities and capital investment to increase the leisure and entertainment offer, including the potential for a new cinema, to enhance the evening economy.
Providing more high quality business accommodation, through refurbishments of existing building. This will help to attract more inward investment into the town and capitalise on the locational advantages Folkestone has from its close proximity to central London, which is 51 mins journey time on HS1 to St Pancras, and mainland Europe through the Channel Tunnel.
Improving the vitality and vibrancy of the town through investments that will attract more residents into the town centre, through the conversion of empty properties into homes, and softer measures to improve the street environment, address issues of antisocial behaviour and increase the level of animation through events and activities, including an improved street market.
Addressing connectivity and transport challenges to ensure better pedestrian flow around the town to capture more of the benefits of the visitor attractions at the seafront and harbour for the whole of the town and ensure a more integrated offer. This is work that is to be jointly commissioned with Kent County Council and overseen by the Folkestone & Hythe Accelerated Delivery Board.
The bid mentions the “potential for a new cinema, to enhance the evening economy.” It does NOT say it is a certainty.
The bid does not mention Hythe Town Centre, New Romney or Lydd. How the newly elected Greens from Hythe the three new sheep from the Marsh and Cllrs GOddard and Hills will react to the lack of involvement in making their high streets vibrant, only time will tell.
You can view all documents below:
The Shepwayvox Team
Dissent is NOT a Crime
Have you overlooked the involvement of Folkestone Town Centre Management in the Accelerated Delivery Board?