Published: 12:01, 14 August 2016
The town council has pledged £350,000 to start a not-for-profit company to buy up empty shops in Dover.
The project is the brainchild of mayor Cllr Neil Rix and would see the company buying empty shops, converting the upstairs into affordable flats and leasing the bottom as shops with affordable rates.
It is hoped this will tackle the issue of high business rates putting off shop owners in Dover.
Cllr Rix, who called a meeting once the funding had been confirmed last Wednesday, said: “I’ve been a councillor for nine years. I want to see it thrive and make Dover a better place, especially the shopping area.”
The board will consist of non-councillors and council members and an initial £350,000 has been put aside to buy buildings.
Cllr Rix said: “I’m a Dover man, through and through, and I want to see the best for my town.
“The council will end up owning the shops so it’s an investment for the council.”
The council will also fund £25,000 for the Market Square regeneration, which will see a complete re-design all the way to Pencester Road to make the town centre more accessible.
Cllr Rix said: “I’ve sent out over 300 letters to Bond Street, Oxford Street, all the main shopping areas in London, inviting them to come to Dover and have a look at our empty shops. I’ve been getting good responses.”
Businesses have shared concerns that the St James’ development could take away from town centre trade with M&S and Poundland re-locating there.
So far, the site will be home to a 108-bedroom Travelodge, six screen Cineworld, an M&S Simply Food store, Next, Nandos, Frankie and Benny’s, Bella Italia, Poundland, Brantano, Tresspass and Costa Coffee.
Meanwhile, Dover Town Team is cleaning up the empty shops that have fallen into disrepair.
Chairman of the town team John Angell said: “We are encouraging Dover District Council to tell absentee landlords to keep their buildings in good order in the town centre.
“We have limited powers. We can’t force someone to spend money on a premises they aren’t going to get any return on.”
Work to regenerate Market Square and link the town centre with the St James’ and western docks developments could start this year.
Dover Town Team has been working with MP Charlie Elphicke, town, district and county councils on a Coastal Community Fund bid for £1.685 million.
The decision on whether this has been accepted is expected in November.
It would see a new water feature in Market Square, which has been described as a ground-level installation similar to that at Folkestone’s Harbour Square.
The hope is to create a more welcoming space for functions and the market, new paving and a refurbished underpass.
Chairman of the town team John Angell said: “We are hoping if we get the finance for it, it will enhance the town significantly.”
He said making it easier for pedestrians to get from the St James’ development and the Western Docks Revival would bring benefits from these developments into the town.
Plans will also include modern art features on the square, LED lighting, trees, flowers and improvement of public transport.
The hope is it can be completed by 2018.
The town team held an open meeting at the Dover Marina Best Western Hotel last Monday to tell residents about its work.
As well as the Coastal Community Fund bid, the team is also working with Dover District Council and homeless charity Porchlight on reducing the number of rough sleepers in the town.