Exciting and innovative plans for the future of Dover and Deal's town centres were discussed when a Government expert on high streets visited last week. I invited Cllr Graham Galpin of Ashford Borough Council, who sits on the Government's expert panel on high streets, to see what our area has to offer.
Dover District Council leader Keith Morris and head of regeneration Tim Ingleton also attended and discussed the authority's ambitious plans. We met at the St James development and then walked down Flying Horse Lane to Cannon Street and Biggin Street – which has been dubbed Dover's "old town" – and spoke to shopkeepers.
We then visited Deal, which won high street of the year in 2013 and has since gone from strength to strength following my campaign to bring the fast train to town. We also talked about bidding for the Government's new £675 million Future High Streets Fund, announced in the autumn Budget. Towns can bid for up to £25 million of cash – but need to present a plan on how they will change the use of empty commercial properties, improve transport access and boost footfall.
It was fantastic to discuss exciting and innovative plans for Dover and Deal with Graham and Keith. Our town centres have such huge potential. Yet it's vital adapt to the rise of internet shopping.
One idea people have suggested is for our high streets to become more residential, with more independent shops and cafes too. So we offer people the sort of experiences and community spirit which you just can't get online. I'm determined to work with the district council to help make our high streets the best they can be.
Early next year the Government is launching a High Streets Taskforce to support local councils – with initial bids for the Future High Streets Fund opening in Spring 2019. Cllr Galpin's visit comes as an application for a £3 million project by Dover Town Team to "revitalise Dover's Historic Market Square and Old Town" successfully reached the next stage. The team have until January 21 to submit their Stage 2 application and business plan to the Government's Coastal Communities Fund. Successful projects are set to be announced in Spring 2019.
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