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New grants of up to £10,000 agreed by district council cabinet to deal with empty shops in Dover, Deal and Sandwich

By Sam Lennon

A town centre pockmarked with empty shops is to get help from a grants scheme.

The heart of Dover, which has an above average amount of vacant commercial properties, will have new funds to bring them back into use and to improve those open but in poor condition.

The scheme, offering grants of up to £10,000 per property, is also for the centres of Sandwich and Deal.

A row of five empty shops at Biggin Street, Dover
A row of five empty shops at Biggin Street, Dover

Dover District Council's cabinet voted it through on Monday morning .

Council leader Keith Morris said after the meeting: “High streets across the district are showing resilience in the face of online competition and changing consumer tastes.

Deal and Sandwich continue to have low vacancy rates, while Dover is attracting new investment.

“However, empty commercial premises paint a poor picture. This scheme is designed to support owners of commercial buildings who want to improve the appearance, occupancy and use of vacant and run down properties."

A council survey for central Dover, showed that, as of this March 31, there were 45 vacant commercial properties.

This was 13.88%, above the national average of 11.2%.

Most, a total 13, were in the precinct of Biggin Street and Cannon Street, informally known by locals as the high street.

There were also five each in Castle Street, Snargate Street and Bench Street.

Deal's town centre figure is far below average, with 3.12% in March, totalling 10 vacant commercial properties.

There were two in Beach Street, including The Regent, and one each in places such as the High Street, Queen Street and Stanhope Road.

The figure was 3.46% (six) for central Sandwich. These were two in Delf Street and one each in Cattle Market, Market Street, Potter Street and St Peter's Street.

This new grant will cover up to 50% of the cost of a project up to £10,000.

It can be used towards external renovation or improvement of ground floors and upper floors on the front elevations of buildings.

The money is also for internal fit-outs and conversions.

Council officers will handle applications and consider the prominence and condition of a property, how long it has been empty and plans for is new use.

The grants scheme is another method to increase footfall in Dover's precinct area.

St James' Dover
St James' Dover

The council report says it is already showing an increase of about 60% following the start of trading in March at the £53 million St James' retail and leisure development.

St James' was set up in a development partnership between the council and Bond City Ltd.

The new grants for Dover add to the council's work to link the new development with the "old town" the rebrand term for the precinct area.

It is also to dovetail with the Mean While scheme, at the former Co-operative store at Stembrook. This is to become a start-up business base, helping entrepreneurs in testing ideas and products and moving into the precinct.

The grants scheme is designed to complement existing initiatives such as Kent County Council's Kent Empty Property Initiative, called No Use Empty.

Properties eligible for help will be within large chunks of the towns centres.

The Dover town centre zone targeted for help
The Dover town centre zone targeted for help

In Dover it will be the area inside Maison Dieu Road, Townwall Street, Priory Road, York Street and Ladywell but will also stretch westward to the De Bradelei Wharf Shopping Centre.

In Deal it will be between the pier and railway line, short of Chapel Street to the north and short of Sondes Road to the south.

The centre of Deal
The centre of Deal
The area of Sandwich expected to be helped
The area of Sandwich expected to be helped

In Sandwich the zone will be west of the High Street and south-west of Strand Street.

Cabinet members agreed that help would not be kept rigidly within these boundaries but would be provided outside too, where it was needed.

Further details of the grant schemes and application process will be available online on the Dover District Council website from Monday, October 15.

Scott Taylor even has an empty shop unit next to his business in Dover
Scott Taylor even has an empty shop unit next to his business in Dover

Dover's precinct is "like a ghetto" and in "severe neglect" says a trader.

Scott Taylor, of Taylor Meats in Biggin Street, says he only gets a fraction of the trade he benefits from at his other east Kent branches.

The butcher estimates that on a good Saturday he gets an average of about 600 customers each at his Herne Bay and Ramsgate shops.

But he says he gets 200 customers on such a day at his Dover shop.

He believes the area has a combination of problems including too many empty shops and anti-social behaviour.

The district council counted Biggin Street as having 11 vacant shop units in March, the highest amount for any of the district's town centre streets.

The Mercury did a count in July and added up 15.

Mr Taylor, who lives in Herne Bay, said on Monday. "Today a group of visitors from one of the cruise liners came to the precinct and what must they have thought?

"This is the Gateway to England and this area is like a ghetto.

"The area is in severe neglect. I have come across no empty shops in Herne Bay and Ramsgate is thriving in the harbour area. Yet we are struggling in Dover.

"They could at least decorate the shop fronts in Dover while they are empty.

"It is a shame because Dover is a beautiful town."

This empty mobile phone store in Biggin Street, opposite Taylor Meats, even has a broken window
This empty mobile phone store in Biggin Street, opposite Taylor Meats, even has a broken window

Mr Taylor's shop is next door to an empty unit and across the street from the closed-down McDonald's and an empty former mobile phone store with a broken window.

Mr Taylor agreed that the council's new grants initiative was a positive step but said: "There is no quick fix for Dover. The problems are complex. It is not just the empty shops but also issues such as anti-social behaviour, For example there is a massive alcohol abuse problem in Dover. People must be intimated by that."

Mr Taylor also disagreed with the council figure of a 60% rise in football in the area.

"He said: "It's absolute poppycock. Footfall is going down rapidly."

The Mercury this week counted a row of five empty premises in Biggin Street, two of which had been occupied by Marks and Spencer and Superdrug, which moved to St James' this year.

One of those five now has an estate agents's "let by" sign, suggesting imminent occupation.

Some improvements have happened over the last year. A premises then dubbed Triffids House because of vines growing inside , has since been cleaned up.

An empty premises two doors away was filled by HR Go Recruiment by last July.

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