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Plans for a £3 million boost for town centres in Folkestone district are approved

Plans to inject £3 million into several 'struggling' high streets have been given the go ahead.

The cash boost will come from Folkestone and Hythe District Council which will use the money to support ailing town centres under its "adapt to the future" scheme.

Folkestone town centre
Folkestone town centre

Areas in line for funding include Folkestone, Hythe, New Romney, Sellinge and Dymchurch.

The scheme was revealed in a report, titled Folkestone & Hythe District High Streets Fund, released by the authority last week and discussed by members of the cabinet at their monthly meeting last night.

The document states: "Many high streets are currently facing significant challenges as a result of structural changes to the way in which consumers shop for goods.

"With the rise of online sales and the increased cost pressures facing retailers, many high streets are struggling with falling footfall and sales.

"In recognition of these issues, the cabinet agreed in February 2019 to establish a £3m earmarked reserve fund for ‘High Streets regeneration’ to support the delivery of regeneration projects within the district."

Cllr David Wimble (Ind)
Cllr David Wimble (Ind)

The report outlined that of the £3m, £2.5m was to be earmarked for improvements to Folkestone town centre as it is "the largest and most important retail centre in the district and its success is important to all parts of the district".

The literature added that Folkestone offers the "best opportunity to deliver a commercially viable proposition that would attract private investment."

The remaining £500,000 left of the pot was then proposed to be split between 10 other high streets in the district- Cheriton, Sandgate, Hythe, New Romney, Lydd, Hawkinge, Dymchurch, Elham, Lyminge and Sellindge.

But speaking at last night's meeting, Cllr David Wimble (Ind) suggested altering the split to £2.2m for Folkestone town centre and £800,000 for the other areas.

His amendment was seconded by Cllr David Godfrey (Con) and approved unanimously by members.

A fairer division of the money was also raised at an Overview and Scrutiny meeting on Tuesday night.

"We should look at splitting the money up a bit more fairly across the entire district, rather than everything being concentrated in Folkestone..." - Cllr Dorrell

Cllr Michelle Dorrell (Lab) said: "I feel we should look at splitting the money up a bit more fairly across the entire district, rather than everything being concentrated in Folkestone.

"I understand Folkestone is the major area of the district but where we have an ageing population they need their own high street.

"So anything we can do to encourage the high street in Lydd, in Greatstone, in New Romney, in Dymchurch and all of the smaller villages would be more beneficial to all of the residents across the district rather than everything always being concentrated on Folkestone."

Cllr Patricia Rolfe (Con) and Cllr Terrance Mullard (UKIP) also supported a more fair split.

Potential uses for the money in Folkestone include funding for capital schemes such as land and building acquisition, and initiatives including maximising the impact of the street market, developing a ‘digital high street’, providing ‘pop-up shop’ opportunities and support for new independent businesses.

Michelle Dorrell (Lab) ward member for Folkestone East
Michelle Dorrell (Lab) ward member for Folkestone East

The funding will also support the "development of a wider town centre masterplan" - which refers to the council's vision to occupy the doomed Debenhams store with a new cinema, plus fill out the rest of the town with more shops, bars and restaurants.

The authority unveiled these plans in April this year following news the department store would be leaving the prime spot in Sandgate Road in 2020.

A consultation on these plans is expected to open this autumn.

From the £3m budget, grants between £5,000 and £50,000 will be available for individual projects, ranging from improving shop front elevations, internal ground floor fit-outs, improvements to the townscape - including the introduction of signage, new route ways or new art works/landscaping -, and events to increase the vitality of the High Street.

Those interested in these types of grants would have between October 1 2019 and March 31 2021 to apply.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone, Romney Marsh and Hythe

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