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How Dover's docks has changed over the last 30 years

Photographs show the drastic change in an iconic part of Kent over the last 30 years.

One photo shows the Hoverport, on reclaimed land at Dover Western Docks in the early 1990s.

Another, taken this summer, shows the Hoverport vanished and Cargo Terminal West exactly on the spot its building was on.

Note also the Marina Curve, which never existed 30 years ago.

The long, brown building, on Admiralty Pier and behind the square white Lord Warden House, is now used for the Cruise Terminal when it once housed Dover's then second railway station.

The Clock Tower is still there but the land around it is transformed into the open space Clock Tower Square.

A number of changes in the docks and town were influenced by the seismic effects of the arrival of the Channel Tunnel, which was at first feared to flatten Dover's cross-Channel ferry trade.

But changes also came from the natural evolving of the ferry industry, helping make the Western Docks redundant as a crossing point and prompting a need to redevelop the area.

This eventually spurred the Port of Dover authority's single biggest investment - the £250 million Dover Western Docks Revival.

Dover historian Paul Wells said: "For centuries Dover Harbour has evolved to meet our demands on the shortest crossing to mainland Europe.

"Dover port was expected to be killed off by the creation of the Channel Tunnel and the ending of the hovercraft services.

"But the level of car traffic has stayed similar since before the tunnel opened and the number of lorries has actually doubled, something many never expected."

Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover, added: "I would say the Channel Tunnel had an impact on the hovercraft service.

"The hovercraft was already a very noisy mode of transport and expensive to run.

"It burned a high amount of fuel so it was not very economical."

The Channel Tunnel, opened in 1994, provided a smooth and seamless underground glide for passengers between London and Paris.

Now there was no longer a need for long train journeys through Kent and northern France and above all the torturing seasickness during a hovercraft flight in rough seas.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister at the Marina Curve. Picture: Sam Lennon
Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister at the Marina Curve. Picture: Sam Lennon

But Mr Bannister said: "I think the days of cross-Channel sailings from the Western Docks were numbered anyway."

Until the Second World War all ferries sailed from the Western Docks but the change began when the first roll-on-roll-off ferry berths began service in the Eastern Docks in 1953.

The success and efficiency of sailings grew from there, Mr Bannister believes.

Coupled with that is the attractiveness of Dover ferries for hauliers to this day with more lorry movements through the port now than pre-Channel Tunnel.

It was 2,149,595 in 2021 yet just 984,315 in 1991.

This has been helped by cargo handling being moved from the Eastern to the Western Docks, allowing more capacity for ferries on the east side.

Mr Bannister said: "An internal harbour board report in 1968 said that the Channel Tunnel would bring port traffic down to 12%.

"But we always have the geographical advantage of being just over 20 miles from our largest trading market, the EU. And you can place up to 150 lorries per ferry.

"Secondly is the frequency of sailings. If you miss your crossing there will be another one in half an hour."

In 1992 Dover Harbour and the Western Docks were a different world.

A hovercraft flight arriving in Dover for the very last time in 2000. Picture: Paul Amos
A hovercraft flight arriving in Dover for the very last time in 2000. Picture: Paul Amos

The then P&O European Ferries competed with Stena Line with sailings from Dover Eastern Docks and Hoverspeed was the niche operator with flights from the Western Docks.

Once you arrived at the Hoverport you could land at Plage Bleriot in Calais exactly an hour later.

The speed of the crossings was due to the crafts being able to cruise at more than 60 knots (111 km/69 miles per hour) and having a top speed of 83 knots (154 km/96 miles per hour).

The SN.R4 make, such as The Princess Anne and Princess Margaret, could carry 254 passengers per flight and 30 cars.

On a still night the distant sound of a hovercraft coming back to England could be heard wafting over Dover Western Heights and reaching as far as on the Clarendon and Westbury estate.

Dover's then second railway station was originally for direct cross-Channel services from the Western Docks.

Carnival Pride in Dover. Picture: Dover Strait Shipping
Carnival Pride in Dover. Picture: Dover Strait Shipping

It was opened as Dover Marine Station in 1919 and was renamed Dover Western Docks in 1979.

In September 1992 there was a major discovery when the world's oldest seagoing boat was unearthed. The legendary Bronze Age Boat, now in Dover Museum, was found at Townwall Street during the building of the present A20.

The creation of that road was an example of drastic change that needed to be made with the Channel Tunnel on the way.

It was to help keep Dover's ferry industry on a level playing field with the new service.

The new A20 was opened in November 1993 and until then the route had gone through Folkestone Road in Dover.

The A20 in Dover opened in 1993
The A20 in Dover opened in 1993

Juggernauts had to somehow be negotiated past oncoming and parked cars, causing holdups for other traffic and noise and pollution for residents and businesses.

On leaving Dover they infuriated car drivers by slowing their progress trundling along in front of them and going like snails up hills.

That single carriageway, now the B2011, was too dangerous to overtake on.

So at Capel-le-Ferne car drivers heading towards Folkestone would try to get ahead by dashing along the parallel Old Dover Road.

Dover Western Docks station closed completely in November 1994.

Granville Dock, which will be infilled in a future phase of the Dover Western Docks revival. Picture: Sam Lennon
Granville Dock, which will be infilled in a future phase of the Dover Western Docks revival. Picture: Sam Lennon

The hovercrafts came to an end in 2000 and Hoverspeed's replacement of them with catamarans lasted only until 2005.

A catamaran service from Dover, even taking passengers to Boulogne, was revived in the late 2000s but also withered away.

The port authority very soon realised the Western Docks would have to be re-used so firstly its railway station building was converted for use as a cruise terminal.

The £10 million facility was formally opened in June 1996 and now welcomes around 200,000 passengers a year.

Dover’s Cruise Terminal, which can take three ships at a time, had record-breaking year in 2021 welcoming 130 cruises, including 73 turnaround visits and 11 inaugural ship calls.

The present redevelopment is the Dover Western Docks Revival (DWDR), which began in 2016 and is ongoing.

Boats have moved into the new marina - three years after it was built. Picture: Port of Dover
Boats have moved into the new marina - three years after it was built. Picture: Port of Dover

Cargo Terminal West opened in 2019 to an established trade in perishable freight and now deals with a range of cargo types such as steel.

It continues to attract an increasing number of additional vessel calls to Dover.

In the week ending June 26 this year, the terminal welcomed the MV Jette Marit from Dubai, to discharge 10,251 tonnes of reinforcing steel and the ship Interlink Quality came with 6,346 tonnes of beams from India.

Port of Dover Cargo Ltd, a subsidiary of the Port of Dover, also discharged 4,000 tonnes of aggregate from the cargo ship Frakt Fjord and received a vessel to load 4,000 tonnes of milling wheat for Dublin.

Seatrade is one of the shipping companies using the port.

The new marina in Dover, before boats were allowed to move into it this summer
The new marina in Dover, before boats were allowed to move into it this summer

Eik Schuster, its senior commercial manager, said: "Today, there are very few facilities in UK and Europe that can offer similar true multi-purpose facilities on this scale."

A new walkway, the Marina Pier, opened in 2019.

The Marina Curve opened in 2021 and boats have now moved in for a temporary trial period until the outer wave wall has been installed and tested.

But many other businesses are also setting up home there, showing traders are willing to invest in Dover.

The Port of Dover welcomed Network Yacht Brokers Kent Ltd to the Curve this year, with a place at the the Marina Undercroft building.

The yacht and motorboat brokering company is expanding from its current bases in Chatham and Gillingham.

Peter Norris, managing director of NYB, said, "This beautiful spot on the seafront, amongst the recognisable surroundings of the White Cliffs, is an ideal location to expand our operations from and we look forward to doing business across the wider South East region from our new base in Dover."

Right next to the Marina Curve is Clock Tower Square, which also opened last year.

It was used for a beacon lighting during the Queen's Platinum Jubilee weekend.

Vaz Govender, of Big Pan Foods. Picture: Sam Lennon
Vaz Govender, of Big Pan Foods. Picture: Sam Lennon

The square has remnants from the past with granite ground and the entrance gates from the now-gone Prince of Wales Pier.

Big Pan Foods is serving South African street food, having been at Clock Tower Square since the end of last year.

The business is at present a takeaway with outdoor seating but is planning to expand to create an indoor dining area.

Its boss, Vaz Govender, who lives in Walmer, said: "The pandemic taught me to make sure I also provided a take away service to keep the business going.

"I worked in Dover before during Christmas markets but it is a perfect opportunity having this on your doorstep. It has great regeneration potential."

Also this summer, Aaron Hudson-Tyreman opened his café, Pedaler on the Port, in the original Victorian lifeboat station right next to the Clock Tower.

He had moved his business from Bridge near Canterbury and said: "Dover is the gateway to England and Europe and it is amazing what they are doing here.

"I think it should be one of East Kent's premier destinations.

Pedaler on the Port opened in Dover earlier in the summer, at Clock Tower Square
Pedaler on the Port opened in Dover earlier in the summer, at Clock Tower Square

"Considering the success of Folkestone Harbour I see what they are doing here with investment and infrastructure. I think this is an amazing spot.

"Where else on the East Kent coast would you find this?"

The Breakwater Brewery, a local micro-brewery, is back on the Curve with a new seating area added for the summer season.

People enjoying a drink at Breakwater brewery
People enjoying a drink at Breakwater brewery

A stone-baked pizza stall is also joining the line-up, while another new addition this summer is Planet Earth Kitchen; already a cult-favourite vegan restaurant in Folkestone.

Café on the Curve and Wills Soft Ices are already in situ.

There will be a regular schedule of events too, delivered in partnership with the tourism group Destination Dover. Local residents and berth holders can come down every Sunday to enjoy a variety of performances.

Aaron Hudson-Tyreman, owner of Pedaler on the Port. Picture: Sam Lennon
Aaron Hudson-Tyreman, owner of Pedaler on the Port. Picture: Sam Lennon

For the future, plans for a 90-room motel plus a swimming pool, restaurant and bar were approved by Dover District Council planning members last December.

The next stage of DWDR focuses on logistics, the transportation of goods to customers.

Graville Dock, west of the Union Street swing bridge, will be infilled to create space for a goods distribution hub.

Work on this is expected to start in 2024.

Mr Wells said: "Every 50 years or so there are new demands put upon the port that many wouldn't have predicted so it will be interesting to see what the next 50 years brings."

With thanks to Dover (Kent) History Pages on Facebook for use of pictures

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