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Council publishes results of Folkestone town centre public survey

The best - and worst - of Folkestone has been revealed in a public survey launched to help shape the future of the town centre.

Poverty, homelessness, lack of shops and littering have all been listed as the things people dislike most about the town.

Folkestone town centre. Picture: Chris Davey
Folkestone town centre. Picture: Chris Davey

The list also includes anti-social behaviour, expensive parking, aesthetic problems - such as it being 'run down and scruffy' looking - and the lack of facilities and amenities.

The best things about Folkestone have been identified as being the seafront position, beach, harbour, natural areas - for examples parks and open spaces - the harbour arm and its shops and the sense of community and friendliness.

Visitors are also fond of the seafood on offer, the Creative Quarter and the Old High Street.

These lists were compiled from the results of a survey which quizzed residents, visitors and business owners on what they like and dislike about Folkestone and its town centre, and what can be improved.

The questionnaire was commissioned by Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) and undertaken at the end of 2019, with the authority now planning on using the results to inform future interventions, initiatives and, where appropriate, new policies for the town.

Some of the results from the survey. Picture: FHDC
Some of the results from the survey. Picture: FHDC

The survey was carried out by a team at Watermelon Research Limited, who conducted face to face and telephone interviews, and an online questionnaire.

In total, 1,095 people responded to the survey; 579 residents and 412 visitors were interviewed in person, while a further 370 people filled out the online questionnaire.

Twenty-five business owners from Folkestone were also quizzed, as were 79 London-based businesses who might be open to moving or expanding in the area.

A report of the findings have now been published online by the council.

As well as the best and worse things about the town, the survey also reveals that while many residents are satisfied with Folkestone as a place to live, satisfaction rate is below the national average and is particularly low among 16-24 year olds.

Some London based businesses would consider moving to Folkestone. Picture: Chris Davey
Some London based businesses would consider moving to Folkestone. Picture: Chris Davey

From the face to face interviews, 75% of people said they were satisfied living in Folkestone district, while 9% said they were not, and through the online survey 63% were satisfied while 20% were not.

When asked what would encourage more frequent trips to Folkestone town, residents and visitors supported the idea of better choice of shops, with 83% of those who responded online choosing this option.

This was followed by better parking, better choice of nightlife and evening venues and better recreation and leisure facilities.

Only 41% of people quizzed face to face were happy with the variety of shops currently on offer, with a further 41% claiming to be 'dissatisfied'.

Online, 65% of people said they were dissatisfied with the town's retail offering.

Debenhams recently left the town centre. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Debenhams recently left the town centre. Picture: Barry Goodwin

While both the independent shops and high street chains such as Primark provide a draw, the parking issues were considered a barrier, as were the level of closed and empty shops.

Similarly only 31% of people interviewed in person were happy with the evening entertainment and nightlife on offer, with 32% saying they were not happy.

Through the online survey, the number of people dissatisfied with the nightlife rose to 42%.

In fact, 12% of people said 'more evening activities' in the town would encourage them to stay overnight.

Business owners in Folkestone identified the 'unappealing town centre' as Folkestone's biggest weakness, closely followed by the lack of parking, the 'neglected' look and poor town centre management.

Strengths identified were access to the Channel Tunnel and therefore Europe, and the good road and rail links to London.

The results show people would like a better choice of shops. Picture: FHDC
The results show people would like a better choice of shops. Picture: FHDC

Furthermore, 20% of the London businesses who were approached said they consider Folkestone as a potential location, with lower coasts listed as a key reasons why.

The findings also revealed scope to increase the promotion of the town, after only 8% of visitors said they had seen advertising or information that encouraged them to come to Folkestone.

The results also raised concerns around issues such as ‘gentrification’ or too much insensitive development that could lead to Folkestone "losing its character".

In turn, the council needs to "ensure that regeneration activity preserves the existing sense of community and aims to enhance and deepen this".

The report from FHDC looking into the findings summarised: "The market research has given us a wealth of information of the views and perceptions of residents, visitors and businesses.

"This output will be invaluable in informing future action to make Folkestone town centre fit for the future and a place we can all be proud of.

"We recognise that we need to improve Folkestone for the future, including creating a more diverse offer to meet the aspirations and needs of all age and social groups.

"We need to ensure that Folkestone town centre is a place that can attract new investment, support and retain current businesses, embraces innovative technology and celebrates it as a vibrant seaside town that can offer an excellent work life balance.

"We are fully committed as a local authority to driving action to improve the local economy and stimulate economic growth in Folkestone town centre and in the wider district."

This is not the only council-initiative designed to enhance the town centre. In 2019, councillors approved a scheme to inject £3m cash into the district's high streets.

Of that, £2.2m has been earmarked for Folkestone and the remaining £800,000 is to be split between Cheriton, Sandgate, Hythe, Dymchurch, New Romney, Lydd, Hawkinge, Lyminge, Sellindge and Elham.

As at March 2020, £185,733 had been awarded for projects in Folkestone - including the renovation of Market Square restaurant's basement.

In addition, FHDC has recently purchased the empty unit formerly occupied by Debenhams for £2m.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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