Folkestone and Margate: a warning for East Devon’s seaside “regeneration” plans

” … The renovated pier is the first phase of a £337m redevelopment of the harbour, which will see 1,000 homes, restaurants, shops, sports centres and gardens built on the seafront over the next two decades. But experts on seaside regeneration warn that the project by local philanthropist and former Saga group tycoon Roger De Haan’s Folkestone Harbour Company risks a polarising gentrification of one of the town’s most deprived areas, with only 8% of the new homes classed as affordable.

James Kennell, a regeneration expert at Greenwich University, said: “It’s not a development for local people. All the primary benefits are for people moving in or for visitors.”

Over the past decade, De Haan’s Creative Foundation has transformed the town into an arts hub with a triennial art show, a new music and performance venue, a book festival and a public art collection featuring works by Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger and Cornelia Parker.

Jonathan Ward, a sociology researcher at Leeds University, who recently published a report questioning the benefits of cultural regeneration in Folkestone and Margate, contends that the harbour development casts De Haan’s support for the arts in a different light. He said: “[It’s] a bit of cultural branding used to conceal what is basically a speculative property development aimed at elite consumers.”

Paul Sharp, senior branch manager at Ward & Partners estate agents in Folkestone, says there is a growing influx of wealthy out-of-town buyers, particularly from London, accounting for up to 40% of sales in the last 14 months. He expects the harbour development to bring local house prices more in line with Hythe, its more affluent neighbour, within five years. “We’re already seeing that with different people in the town,” he said. “Not so long ago I could walk down the street and bump into quite a few people I knew. That isn’t the case now.”

David Crump, director of the harbour development, said the homes on offer would range from “entry level apartments through to luxury detached beach houses”. He added that only 8% would be affordable housing due to the costs of converting the existing harbour, claiming the development was “utterly unattractive to a commercial developer”.

James Kennell said: “I’m quite positive about the harbour as a short-term intervention because of the jobs it will create in construction for local people. [But] 8% [affordable housing] is a clear statement of intent to gentrify an area of the town that has always been the most deprived. That brings it in line with controversial London housing developments such as those around the 02 or at the new Battersea power station site.”

He added that Folkestone was lucky to have a Victorian-style benefactor like De Haan but, despite the vast sums spent on cultural regeneration, the Office for National Statistics still rated the town as deprived. “It’s great to have a futuristic vision of the town being an entrepreneurial/creative hub with fantastic links to London but it’s all very outward-looking. Folkestone and Shepway have deeply entrenched social problems and the regeneration that takes place over the next 20 years has to bring those people in, otherwise what you’ll end up with is a very polarised town.”

Jonathan Ward said many low-earning artists who had been instrumental in the town’s cultural renaissance had been marginalised by the focus on attracting new consumers and investors.

Local artist Matt Rowe said: “Folkestone was on its knees before Roger’s money came in. The Creative Foundation does work. It’s now that there’s more demand that it is slightly different. The harbour arm and the housing development are going to bring in a much more mass culture audience. The people who come down are happy to spend £8 on a burger but they’re not happy to spend £20 on a print.” …