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Folkestone council discusses options to move Civic Centre to Otterpool Park

Plans to close the "aesthetic carbuncle" that is a council's offices and relocate them to huge proposed development Otterpool Park have been met with mixed reaction.

Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) announced last month that it is investigating leaving the Civic Centre in Castle Hill Avenue, Folkestone , as a way of reducing its impact on the environment.

The council is considering leaving Folkestone's Civic Centre. Picture: Paul Amos
The council is considering leaving Folkestone's Civic Centre. Picture: Paul Amos

It comes as more and more services for residents are being provided online, and more council staff are working from home, a side-effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the authority's latest Overview and Scrutiny committee, leader of FHDC Cllr David Monk said the proposal could involve opening a 'civic suite' at planned garden town Otterpool Park .

The 10,000 home development is destined for land near Hythe and close to historic Westenhanger Castle, which FHDC purchased last year for £2.9million .

Planning permission has yet to be granted for the Otterpool scheme, but an Otterpool Park LLP has been established to 'drive forward' the project, for which FHDC is solely behind .

During the discussion, it was suggested by Cllr Terence Mullard (Ukip) that King Henry VIII's old hunting ground Westenhanger Castle itself be used to house the new council offices, as it is a building the authority already owns.

One idea is to open a 'civic suite' at proposed development Otterpool Park
One idea is to open a 'civic suite' at proposed development Otterpool Park

Cllr Monk (Con) also explained that a customer access point - or 'front-door' - could be set up in Folkestone's centre so that residents can also access services close to town, with Cllr Susan Carey (Con) suggesting the former Debenhams site in Sandgate Road as a possible location.

FHDC also own the building which until January this year was Debenhams ; the authority has recently re-branded the site 'Folca' .

Other councillors supported the idea of having more 'local' access points, including one on Romney Marsh . This would mean residents would not have to travel as far to speak with staff.

Cllr Peter Gane (Con) suggested utilising the existing public libraries across the district.

Cllr Patricia Rolfe (Con) described the current Civic Centre as "aesthetic carbuncle" in the centre of Folkestone which is "not very attractive" and "isn't suitable for workers as a modern working environment".

It was also suggested that an office open in council-owned Westenhanger Castle. Picture: Adam Parker Berg
It was also suggested that an office open in council-owned Westenhanger Castle. Picture: Adam Parker Berg

She added: "To me Otterpool is this district's future and it makes sense to look at that as centre for a civic suite of some kind."

Cllr Gary Fuller (Lib Dem) said if the move was to happen, the new premises would need to be carbon neutral, cost neutral and accessible to all - whether that is online or in person.

Cllr Connor McConville (Lab) raised the idea of promoting existing links with town and parish councils and using their buildings as meeting points.

He said: "In terms of Otterpool, whether that might be right place for a suite and staff, I don't know."

Cllr Michelle Keutenius (Lab) said it was important that residents could still meet staff in person: "There are certain things in life where being able to see someone face to face and talk about issues you just need front on service."

At the end of the meeting, it was said council officers will now work on a more solid proposal to look at options and consultations are expected to follow.

A decision is expected by January 2021, with FHDC possibly occupying a new carbon efficient building by 2023/24.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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