Dover Town Centre

What we were asked to do

SQW (previously BBP Regeneration) has had a longstanding association with Dover town centre working for the Council and its partners. Our early work involved visioning and preparing a strategy to address a town centre in decline and a struggling low wage economy. This work identified a series of priority projects on which we were engaged to undertake further feasibility studies. These ranged from a destination waterfront development through to a business case for a cable car linking the town to Dover Castle. A key focus of our work has been on the redevelopment of the St James area, a 4 Ha substantially derelict site, as a new centre for retailing and leisure activities.

What we did

We provided development consultancy services to Dover District Council embracing: advice on financial viability; preparation of planning briefs; marketing the opportunity; structuring development arrangements and selecting a development partner; securing additional public funding though the preparation of funding bids and Green Book business cases; and providing continued support through planning, land assembly (including compulsory purchase) and legal processes. Through the course of our appointment we provided support to Officers with Members' briefings and reports to the Cabinet and the full Council.

Findings

A strong political commitment supported by professionalism and enthusiasm from Council officers proved key to success. The robustness of the market research and feasibility work undertaken by SQW provided a sound basis for the project to be brought forward through the planning and delivery stages. Town centre regeneration is complex. It typically requires securing anchor traders and hitting the market 'at the right time' in the economic and property market cycles. Securing control of the land necessary to deliver comprehensive regeneration was essential and resource intensive, in this case it was possible to share this risk with a private sector development partner. Additional public-sector funding provide essential support to plug a viability gap.

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Impacts

The St James Dover development was acquired by Legal and General for £50m. It opened in 2018 anchored by Next, M&S Food and Cine UK along with a number of other quality retailers and leisure operators, a new car park and affordable housing. It has transformed a previously blighted site with high quality architecture opening up new vistas to Dover's wonderful landscape and heritage. It has reinforced the town centre offer, retaining expenditure locally and providing an evening economy offer which was previously lacking, so providing resilience to help withstand the challenges faced by our town centres and high streets.