A forgotten section of Kent seafront could be transformed into a top tourist attraction if a council's proposed bid for £20 million of government cash is successful.
Canterbury City Council is in the early stages of drawing up an application for the "game changing" money in the hope it will transform Herne Bay.
Leader Ben Fitter-Harding expects the scheme to centre on three of the town’s main seaside attractions – the Bandstand, King’s Hall and pier.
The Tory told KentOnline: “Some of them have been long overdue investment, so this finally opens up the possibility of doing something really exciting.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the town to leapfrog other British seaside offerings. We want to make sure we’ve got something that sets Herne Bay apart from other coastal locations in Kent and attract many more people from across the country.
“If we can end up in years to come with hotel operators and other private sector ventures looking at the town and thinking it’s somewhere they want to invest, then that would be a very successful outcome.”
Cllr Fitter-Harding believes a potential extension of the pier to its old head, which has sat stranded in the sea since 1980, would not be viable as it would cost “many millions more than 20”.
The potential cash comes from a £4.6 billion Levelling Up Fund aimed to boost often-overlooked places by injecting money into transport, regeneration and cultural projects.
“Preparatory work has begun to identify potential projects that we can form into a bid for Herne Bay,” Cllr Fitter-Harding added.
“Given the remit of the levelling-up fund, it would make sense to focus on the coastal stretch of the town.
“We want to do the consultancy work and understand what the options are, whether they be in leisure, seaside activities, education, water sports, hotel accommodation. I’m not saying £20 million is enough to do everything we want to do, but it’s a sea change in Herne Bay as our council doesn’t have resources of anywhere near that magnitude.”
Canterbury district has been ranked by the government as a high-priority location, meaning it stands a good chance of claiming the cash.
Senior Herne Bay councillor Andrew Cook thinks the added funds could go towards making the King’s Hall a standalone wedding venue.
“It’s being used for a lot of things, but none of them quite fit,” the Heron representative explained.
“We could go upwards with it slightly and restructure the underneath, and then you start to think it could even become half a hotel.”
Cllr Fitter-Harding expects the bid to be lodged with the government next summer for its second round of funding.
This will come several months after the council’s proposals to breathe new life into Canterbury’s oldest sites are lodged.
The project, called Canterbury’s Tales of England, involves turning the city wall into a green haven of wildflowers akin to Manhattan’s High Line Park and renovating the Dane John Gardens.
It is hoped the scheme will also include the transformation of the crumbling castle into an amphitheatre and the creation of a square close to Westgate Towers used by pedestrians and motorists.
“I didn’t want Herne Bay to be left out. There is a legacy there that could be dramatically improved through this kind of investment,” Cllr Fitter-Harding continued. “While we will be officially talking to the public as part of a consultation, if residents do have thoughts and ideas, I’d certainly like to hear them.
“If they email that to firstname.lastname@example.org it’ll be a great opportunity to get people to talk to me.”