Published: 13:17, 24 September 2021
| Updated: 14:53, 24 September 2021
Plans to create a multi-million pound health centre in Folkestone's former Debenhams will save it from becoming a 'large white elephant' in the town centre, it has been claimed.
A proposal to turn part of the old department shop - now named Folca - into the medical centre serving 30,000 patients was revealed in a Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) cabinet report.
The document detailed plans for two GP surgeries in the town - Manor Road and Guildhall Street - to come together and open one centre which would include a primary care facility, diagnostic centre with MRI and X-Ray suites, laboratory facilities and training opportunities.
The centre would be 'state of the art', 'modern' and cost £16 million, according to the report and if approved.
The new partnership, which would be formed under Premier Primarycare Ltd, would then lease the Folca building from current owners FHDC, which purchased the Sandgate Road building after Debenhams left the town in January 2020.
The plans were discussed by members of the authority at their cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, in which they agreed unanimously to the Heads of Terms set out in the report.
These terms include offering a 150 year lease for the disposal of the health centre to Premier Primarycare Ltd for a 'premium'.
This would be a lump sum, rather than yearly rent. The amount is unknown, as members of the public were exempt from this part of the meeting.
Cllr David Wimble (Ind) said he hopes the project will be pushed "forward", as Folca "had the potential of being a large while elephant" in the town centre but will now be a key part of its redevelopment plans.
Cllr Tim Prater (LibDem) said the scheme will not only bring together two surgeries but will "improve what they are offering".
He said its location is also close to good public transport links.
It is hoped the health centre will create extra footfall in the high street.
It is proposed to be created in the Victorian side of the store, which sits on the corner of Bouverie Place and Sandgate Road.
A time frame for the project shows that planning permission will be sought next summer, and if all goes ahead, construction could start at the end of 2022 and completed by autumn-winter 2024.
It is being referred to as phase one of the redevelopment plans for Folca. Phase two will consist of the art deco side of the building, which faces Sandgate Road, with plans to progress this separately.
It is understood a new council office will be established here, offering a customer access point.
Folca is currently being used as a vaccination centre for the Covid-19 jab.