Last week Councillor Paul Watkins announced he would be standing down after 15 years as Leader of Dover District Council. And what an incredible 15 years it's been. So much has happened in our corner of Kent - so much has been transformed. And so much of that could not have been achieved without Paul Watkins playing a key role at every stage. Paul can look back with enormous pride at what he has achieved as leader of Dover District Council.
He has worked tirelessly, year after year, doing his level best to boost Dover, Deal and the villages. He battled every step of the way to defy the doubters. Doubters who never believed investment would be delivered in our community.
He leaves a legacy he can rightly be proud of. Deal is a town transformed. The fast train now sweeps into the station every hour. Cllr Watkins helped fight to deliver the service which has helped the town go from strength to strength. Projects he masterminded transformed the sea front and improved the High Street. Not only has Deal won high street of the year, it is ranked number one in a Times newspaper list of the top UK coastal towns.
Paul has worked tirelessly to make Dover and Deal open for business and to encourage investment in the area. When the financial crash hit and Asda pulled out of the Dover Town Investment Zone scheme (or 'DTIZ' as it was then known) it was a big setback. People walked along Townwall Street, looked up at Burlington House, shook their heads and thought about what might have been.
Yet Paul never gave in. He had a vision for the future and kept going regardless. When I was elected as MP in 2010, one of the first things Cllr Watkins and I talked about was reviving the town centre – and bringing down Burlington House. When I spoke to people around town, they told me it would never happen. This twelve-storey eyesore would blight our landscape forever.
Still Paul kept on going. And finally, in 2015 demolition crews started tearing down Burlington House brick by brick. In 2016 it was gone forever. A huge victory – a symbol of how things really are changing. Legal and General agreed to put more than £50 million into the St James scheme. Cineworld, Next, M&S, Nando's and many others signed up. And the exciting new development is set to open next year.
So much has changed since Cllr Watkins first joined the Council in 1983. Yet whether as ward councillor, chairman or leader – he has given his all to driving the district forward. Everyone can see how deeply this former Dover schoolboy cares about his community.
I wish him a happy retirement with his wife Christine, their two daughters and three grandchildren.
Cllr Watkins has done what he set out to do 15 years ago – and more. Incredible progress has been made. We will miss him as Leader of the Council. Paul can look back on all he has achieved with real pride.
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