Investment in Folkestone seafront regeneration project hits £74m
PUBLISHED: 16:58 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 April 2017
We took a trip to see how the huge development was progressing
A long-term project to regenerate Folkestone seafront has now received some £74m of investment, bosses have confirmed.
The once-thriving seaside strip was ingrained in Kent’s history as thousands regularly flocked to enjoy the Rotunda funfair, amusement arcades and regular Sunday market.
But after being demolished over a decade ago, the site has been left desolate ever since.
In stepped a Victorian-style benefactor in the shape of billionaire Sir Roger De Haan, whose charitable trust has helped regenerate the whole town, including a £7m facelift of the Creative Quarter.
A £5m cash injection from Kent’s economic and business champions the South East Local Enterprise Partnership has helped get this seafront project going, but it is otherwise funded purely from the pockets of Sir Roger, who made his fortune through the sale of the Saga group in 2004.
Just over two years ago, outline planning consent was granted for up to a thousand residential units, including beach houses, apartments and town houses, with a range of commercial spaces and leisure facilities designed to serve a new community.
The scale of the project is huge, with the refurbished Harbour Arm - re-opened last year to great fanfare - arguably at the heart of it all.
Over the sunny Easter weekend, thousands enjoyed the new places to eat and drink, and watched the waves crashing against the harbour.
However, when KoS visited the site this week, bosses told us what they really wanted to prioritise was a way of using the development to tell a story of Folkestone’s history - both recent and ancient.
Indeed, regeneration will be shaped around listed structures including the lighthouse and viaduct which carried trains across the harbour, as a nod to the town’s heritage, as Peter Bettley of the Folkestone Harbour Company explained.
“Over the last six months we’ve been conducting a thorough survey using an experienced expert looking at Folkestone’s maritime history,” he said.
“That’s obviously the history of the harbour, though we don’t just mean back to 1800 when that story began, but the reasons why it was here.
“You can go back a couple of thousand years when there were fishing boats drawing up on the beach, and it goes back even further if you think about it because there’s the Roman Villa site just beyond the Martello tower and evidence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements before that, when arts and crafts were traded with continental Europe.
“The idea is to assemble a whole load of visual material, like these artefacts but also a narrative that will help people to understand why the town is here, why the harbour is here.
“People tend to focus on just the modern history of Folkestone since the harbour was built and the railways came, but we’ve got a much broader story to tell and we think we can do that.
“The question is now, with all this material, how we tell this story.
“It might be an exhibition, it might be signage or theatre or film - we’ve got spaces in which we can do it, but we want to make sure we do it well and in such a way that remains interesting and dynamic into the future.”
New access to the Harbour Arm will be created by using the viaduct as a pedestrian walkway, after work began earlier this year, providing an alternative route to the rather less scenic car park that visitors currently have to traipse through.
The former harbour station is currently being renovated, with bosses unable to start the work at the same time as the Harbour Arm due to it still being under the control of Network Rail.
Surviving features such as the glass canopies will be restored to retain that aura of history.
Mr Bettley added: “The idea is not to leave it as it was, because it was actually a mess, and hadn’t been available to the public for decades.
“But there are individual features on the Harbour Arm that will also be in the station renovation and on the viaduct that do draw out the history and heritage of the site.”
Other ongoing work includes the removal of some 30,000 cubic metres of sand in a huge dredging operation, as well as efforts to prepare the housing development site, which has been ongoing over the winter and spring months, so as to minimise disruption and irritation going into the summer.
The risk of flooding is being managed and mitigated by using additional shingle to reinforce the beach, making it wider and higher at its narrowest and lowest points.
Active beach management will take place on an ongoing basis, as already happens at other points along the coast.
Bosses were coy, however, on how quickly we can expect to see construction begin on homes and services, but that it needed to be right for future residents, and not simply a tourist attraction.
“The whole mantra is Folkestone was conceived once upon a time as a place for people to come and visit,” Mr Bettley said.
“But a lot of those visitor attractions didn’t last very long - the Hotel Grand and Metropole were only operating for about 50 years as hotels, they’ve since operated for much longer as converted apartments.
“Folkestone needs an economy that works for 12 months of the year.
“It needs to be good for people to live and work here rather than just focusing on those visiting in the summer months or for weekends in spring and autumn.
“The idea is to consolidate Folkestone as that great place to live and work, and if people then visit as well, that’s the icing on the cake.”