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Folkestone council buys empty Debenhams store

A district council has announced it has bought an empty Debenhams shop and plans to turn it into a mixed-use development.

Folkestone's vacant site, in Sandgate Road, has been snapped up by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) for an undisclosed sum.

The now-empty Debenhams store in Folkestone has been snapped by the district council
The now-empty Debenhams store in Folkestone has been snapped by the district council

The authority says its "visionary proposals" for the large unit, which closed in January, include a health centre, leisure facilities, flexible work space and residential properties.

Although the contracts are yet to be signed, FHDC says the terms of the purchase have been agreed after it "acted swiftly to acquire the freehold of the store".

The council now hopes to make it the "centrepiece of the town’s regeneration".

Cllr David Monk, FHDC leader, said: "The unit hasn’t been far from most people’s minds since Debenhams closed for the final time.

"We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to draw up viable plans which will benefit all of our residents.

Debenhams in Folkestone before it closed
Debenhams in Folkestone before it closed

"We’ve got ambitious plans to give the precinct a huge lift and make the town centre a place to experience, rather than just visit.

"This is a really positive and forward-thinking move which confirms that - once again - we are acting decisively to make this a district to be proud of."

Debenhams closed for the last time on Sunday, January 19.

Folkestone's store was one of four in Kent to close, with the others in Canterbury, Chatham and Ashford.

Last year, when it was first announced that the chain was at risk, FHDC revealed a town centre masterplan, which included installing a new cinema in Debenhams.

Cllr David Monk (28008404)
Cllr David Monk (28008404)

This move was not supported by Silver Screen, the town's existing movie theatre.

In another bid to support the ailing town centre, FHDC has invested £3m into its new High Streets Fund (HSF), designed to aid projects that will boost towns across the district.

Of the total, £2.2m has been allocated to Folkestone and the remaining £800,000 is to be split between other towns in the district, such as Cheriton, Hythe, New Romney, Lydd, Dymchurch and Sellindge, plus others.

Market Square restaurant was one of the first to benefit from the initiative, and will open a new artisan food and drink hall in the spring.

Until new tenants can be found for Debenhams, the council has assisted a number of independent businesses which have clubbed together to animate the windows of the empty store with vinyl displays.

These are due to be installed shortly.

Other big spends by FHDC in recent times include purchasing Westenhanger Castle for £2.9m and the former Folkestone Racecourse for £25m in connection with the proposed Otterpool Park development.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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