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Concerns about Dover town centre development leave residents wary about promises of 600 jobs through £120m Western Docks Revival

By Chris Price

With a multimillion-pound expansion of the Western Docks on the table, Dover remains economically crucial to Kent.

Yet long-running concerns remain about the state of its town centre.

Most outsiders would think people in Dover would welcome a development creating 600 jobs.

A digitalised view of the Western Docks
A digitalised view of the Western Docks

Plans for a new cargo terminal and marina to redevelop the Western Docks appear all the more critical as a question mark remains over the future of MyFerryLink.

The ferry operator owned by Eurotunnel could cease operations following a provisional ruling by the Competition Commission last month, leaving its 560 employees - many formerly of SeaFrance - out of work, of which nearly 80 are based in the port.

The £120m Western Docks plans unveiled by the Harbour Board could mitigate any impact with 600 new industry jobs and safeguards for another 140.

The proposals have been billed as a catalyst for regenerating a town which remains as crucial to the UK economy as it was when Dover Castle defended the nation’s shores during the First Baron’s War in the 13th century.

Regeneration design for the port. A new cargo terminal
Regeneration design for the port. A new cargo terminal

Yet fixing the town’s economic problems will not be that simple.

“The town is divided by a dual carriageway of lorries,” said Nick Bailey, who is the third generation of his family to run 100-year-old Bailey Opticians based in Dover’s High Street.

“If you go down to the seaside it’s quite nice but when you go out in Dover’s main town it’s so drab. There are so many boarded up shops. It’s awful.”

For nearly a decade, Dover has had a series of stops and starts with investment in the town centre. Multimillion-pound plans for the St James’ area were unveiled in 2004 yet the area remains largely derelict.

White Cliffs of Dover above the Eastern Docks
White Cliffs of Dover above the Eastern Docks

Part of the reason for this, according to Mr Bailey, is a lack of understanding from decision makers, which is why he has fears about the impact of the Western Docks plans.

He said: “We need people in charge of the council who have lived around here for a long time and have an idea about putting money in the right place, rather than wasting it.”

A former chairman of the Dover Rowing Club and Dover Town Regatta, he fears the town centre and tourism industries will be damaged by increased lorry traffic from the scheme.

“As the lorries come in, everything gets damaged,” he said. “I’ve had a wing mirror knocked off by a lorry before and they ruin the roads.”

Dover with its iconic White Cliffs
Dover with its iconic White Cliffs

With greater HGV numbers, there is also the potential for greater disruption should Operation Stack ever be implemented on the M20. Yet Dover Harbour Board says the plans have taken this into account.

A spokesperson said: “Dover Harbour Board will be implementing traffic improvement works on the A20 in the form of new junctions.

“Furthermore, traffic management will improve due to the increased space within the Eastern Docks and cargo traffic being diverted to the Western Docks.”

Today, things finally appear to be moving forward in the town centre. In September, the council revealed it had signed a contract with developers Bond City to bring a Cineworld to the St James’ development.

Cllr Paul Watkins at the St James' Street area of Dover
Cllr Paul Watkins at the St James' Street area of Dover

The council has submitted a Compulsory Purchase Order to knock down one of the worst eyesores – Burlington House.

At a council meeting in February, leader Paul Watkins announced work will start in spring 2015 and is scheduled to be complete by summer 2016.

He said: “When it is built it will be a great contribution to Dover’s night-time economy and a major fillip to the town centre.”

With the Dover Straits still the busiest shipping lane in the world, Dover is a major part of growth plans for Kent County Council and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Port of Dover chief executive Tim Waggott
Port of Dover chief executive Tim Waggott

Harbour Board chief executive Tim Waggott added: “Dover Western Docks’ revival would protect long-term port capacity, create much needed jobs, and enable the transformation of the Dover waterfront with a new marina boosting the local visitor economy.”

Whether both schemes trigger the regeneration of one of England’s most iconic towns remains to be seen.

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