Shop owners are calling for Banksy’s Brexit mural to be restored in Dover in the hope it will help revive the “dying” town centre.
Traders believe the return of the artwork - which was mysteriously painted over in 2019 - could act as a catalyst to save Dover from further decline by attracting more visitors.
Over 70 shopkeepers have come together and signed an open letter to the council regarding the restoration of the artwork, which was originally painted on a vacant building in Bench Street in 2017.
The petition was launched after Dover District Council (DDC) announced a plan to overhaul the site where the art – which showed a workman on a ladder chipping away one of the stars of the EU flag - once resided to make way for a new Creative Centre.
This is part of a multi-million pound masterplan to regenerate the whole of the struggling Bench Street area.
Fabrizio Del Duca, who works in Castle Takeaway, came up with the idea for the petition with the aid of other businesses in the town.
Mr Del Duca, whose family have owned the fish and chip shop for 43 years, said: “Over 70 small businesses in Dover have signed the letter to bring the mural back. Not one person we spoke to was against it.
“We feel the Banksy would not only attract more people to the town, but it could also act as a catalyst for investment.
“Some life is needed back in the town centre; it is dying”.
The 43-year-old, who lives in Stanhope Road, told KentOnline DDC needs to listen to the small businesses which are struggling.
“It is unanimous with shop owners that I have spoken to that bringing the Banksy back would be a positive.
“We hope with this many businesses in favour of it that the council will get back to us on this,” he added.
Iain Buchanan, owner of Alternative Kitchen in Priory Street, says Dover town is currently “dying a death”.
“This town is absolutely dead and a piece of art like this would be great for Dover.
“For a lot of shopkeepers, Dover is a dreary place to own a business at the moment
“Anything that brightens it up and brings people to the town can only be good a good thing,” he said.
Mr Buchanan has owned the furniture store for 36 years and says it is not surprising businesses are struggling.
He added: “The town has been dying on its feet for years now.
“A lot of businesses fail here, I’m grateful that I am still going.”
This made it instantly viewable by drivers going along the A20 Townwall Street to catch ferries to the Continent from Dover's Eastern Docks.
It had been valued at £1 million in July 2019.
But in August 2019, the artwork was mysteriously whitewashed overnight and has been left ever since.
Banksy himself posted about his confusion at it being covered over on social media, along with a picture of his future vision for the site - which showed the flag having crumpled to the floor.
He said on Instagram: "Oh. I had planned that on the day of Brexit I was going to change the piece in Dover to this. But seems they've painted over it. Nevermind. I guess a big white flag says it just as well."
Traders are not the only ones hoping for the Banksy to be restored in Dover. Art dealer John Brandler previously said it needs to be lifted off, preserved and ideally displayed somewhere else in the town.
Mr Brandler said: "Getting rid of that mural would be like binning the Mona Lisa - it would be morally criminal.”
His wishes could potentially come true, as DDC revealed in March it has appointed international art specialists Factum Arte – based in Madrid - to scan and preserve the lost artwork.
This plan, if successful, would involve recreating it digitally or even physically in the future.
But the project could prove difficult and expensive, the council notes.
Speaking this week, a spokesperson for DDC said: “The Banksy had been painted over by someone before DDC took ownership of the building.
“The building is in an extremely deteriorated state, making any work very tricky and highly expensive for local tax payers, and there is no guarantee that the artwork can be brought back into good condition.
“We continue to work with all our stakeholders for the future of the town, with a wide range of exciting initiatives coming together for Dover, including the extensive renovation of the Bench Street area.”