Dover town centre is a historic centre with strong maritime and military heritage.
It is highly accessible by train, car, bus and ferry and has a good level of parking provision. However the A20 to the south of the town centre acts as a major barrier, is often congested with lorries using the port, creates a poor quality environment, contributes to poor air quality in this area and dissects the town from the sea front. In addition to this there are also issues with the one way system around the town and east/ west links through the centre, meaning connectivity between the different areas of the town centre is also poor, and the centre is difficult to navigate around.
The town centre itself is physically long and sprawling, with no key focus. It has a diverse mix of multiple and independent operators, and a number of key anchor tenants including Marks and Spencer, Next, Boots and WH Smith. However the centre suffers from a high vacancy rate - in 2017 the Town Centre had a vacancy rate of 15.2% which was higher than the national average of 11.2% at that time.
Furthermore, there is a lack of critical mass of comparison goods retailers; a lack of food and beverage provision; and a high proportion of charity shops. The town centre also suffers from strong competition from neighbouring centres such as Canterbury; and a poor perception from residents concerning its retail offer.
The centre fails to capitalise on its tourist offer and visitors using the Port tend to by-pass the town centre in favour of other retail and tourist destinations in the surrounding area. The new cruise ship terminal at the Western docks has however created greater opportunities to grow the tourism sector in the town and the council have identified the need for mid to high end hotel accommodation to support this market.
The opening of the new St James retail development in 2018 provided the focus for the rejuvenation of the town, enhanced the retail and leisure offer, and re-positioned the town centre. There is the need to capitalise on this investment however to secure benefits to the wider town centre area.
For the town centre to work there needs to be a mix of uses that are complementary to its functioning. Empty space represents opportunities for other types of development such as residential, offices, bars and restaurants as well as other leisure uses. Hence moving forward, a more flexible strategy is required to create a more vibrant centre.
A number of development opportunities exist both within and in close proximity to the Town Centre. However in order to deliver these projects and transform the town centre a co-ordinated strategy is required.
To support these initiatives there is also the need to develop a coherent connectivity plan for the town centre to provide clear links between different areas; improve accessibility to the mainline High Speed 1 station; provide opportunities for walking and cycling; create focal points to aid navigation and increase social interaction; enhance access to the many historic and cultural assets in the town centre and beyond; and maximise access to the areas of green and blue infrastructure into the town centre to encourage greater levels of utilisation.