Coastal Destination Project
Littlestone Coastal Destination project
Please note that there is an opportunity to share your views regarding this project at the foot of this article.
This transformational project will create a major beachside visitor destination for the Romney Marsh at Littlestone, New Romney. The site is 5 miles north of Dungeness A, which Magnox’s 2016-21 Socio-economic Plan identifies as a high priority for socio-economic investment. The project will:
- Support the local economy by encouraging new visitor spend and creating space for new businesses to establish employ and train people
- Protect and enhance the environment by using sustainable construction techniques, enhancing and managing the site’s appearance and biodiversity value, and attracting visitors away from more sensitive habitats such as Dungeness
- Create space for inclusive community activities including a Changing Place WC for disabled adults, water-sports training and environmental and heritage education
The Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) owned project site is a 0.8 acre car-park which, while it offers attractive views across Hythe Bay, is underused, unsurfaced and visually unappealing, providing little community benefit. The council considered developing it as a housing site but concluded that its use as a visitor/community destination has greater social, economic and environmental value.
The project will include:
- A new sustainably constructed visitor hub with WCs including a “Changing Place”, showers, catering, and space for water-sports training environmental/historical education. The hub will accommodate at least one new business with two additional businesses expressing interest in the site.
- 108 beach chalets aimed at repeating the success of FHDC’s just completed chalet project at Folkestone’s Coastal Park.
- Formalised car parking for around 75 cars using a sustainable drainage approach, with EV charging points and disabled bays, and further informal parking.
- Site-appropriate hard and soft landscaping including planting, new waste facilities, LED lighting, and signage to inform visitors and protect the environment.
- Environmental measures including boardwalks and fencing to facilitate foot, wheelchair and buggy access to the beach and chalets while guiding visitors away from sensitive habitats; management of existing and creation of new site-appropriate habitats; environmental and heritage interpretation, and conservation activities for local people and visitors led by the Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership.
The project has excellent fit with priorities set out in the strategies of key bodies including FHDC, Magnox, the NDA, Romney Marsh Partnership, New Romney Coastal Community Team and Visit Kent and will help these organisations deliver on their priorities.
For example, The Magnox Socio-economic Plan 2016-21 identifies the project location as a high priority area. In line with the plan’s priorities, the project is transformational in nature, and it will help to support the community for many years ahead. In addition to substantial FHDC funding large contributions are expected from other bodies such as the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust and the Ministry for Homes Communities and Local Government, so project costs will be shared and Magnox’s funds will be used more effectively. The project is rooted too in an existing stakeholder group/socio-economic initiative, the Romney Marsh Partnership, which Magnox/NDA supports.
The project fits particularly well with Resilient Economies, Thriving Communities, Sustainable Incomes, and Sustainable growth themes set out in the NDA local social and economic impact strategy (2020 update) and it will:
- Support wealth building, and especially growth in tourism which is a key sector locally.
- Enable volunteering in environmental activities and participation in water sports.
- Create opportunities for work and training in construction and ongoing management.
- Attract visitors to a robust location and divert visitors from more sensitive sites and its construction and maintenance will embody sustainability in its use of materials and technology.
FHDC’s “Creating Tomorrow Together: Corporate Plan 2021-2030” has a strong focus on sustainable recovery and working effectively with partners. The project will particularly support those principles and its ambitions for “A thriving environment”, and “A vibrant economy”. FDC’s “Sustainable Access and Recreation Management Strategy (SARMS)” was developed by FHDC and Rother District Council to provide a framework for managing visitor pressures across sensitive habitats between Rye and New Romney. The project site is in one of the less sensitive areas and its development as proposed has the capacity to accommodate large numbers of visitors helping to divert them away from more sensitive areas at Dungeness.
The Romney Marsh Partnership Delivery Plan 2017-20 highlights the growing economic importance of tourism, and the Marsh coastline’s strength as an opportunity for diversification and the project supports the plan’s aims to protect and enhance the area’s natural and built environment while supporting development of a strong visitor offer.
FHDC has a long working relationship with Magnox and the NDA to develop economic environmental and social projects including for example the Romney Marsh Partnership Green Tourism Officer and the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre.
FHDC is currently leading the NDA/Magnox supported Romney Marsh Business Hub projects at Mountfield Road Industrial Estate, New Romney, both of which are currently on time and budget.
Particularly pertinent is FHDC’s recent completion of a similar beach chalet project at Folkestone Coastal Park with 100% occupancy rates and a waiting list of over 800 people. Demand for the chalets proposed in this project is expected to be similarly high and the project will generate income for FHDC principally from car parking charges and chalet rentals. This income is not expected to exceed the capital cost of the investment until approximately years 12 or 13 and the main intention of this project is to help manage visitor pressure while enhancing and supporting recovery of the tourism economy.
Subject to funding being agreed construction would start in early 2022 and the site would operate from summer 2022. Maintenance during its minimum 25 year life will be managed by FHDC.
Project benefits will include:
- Diversification of the Romney Marsh economy away from nuclear to offset the current decommissioning impacts at Dungeness A and the eventual decommissioning of EDF’s B station which has been brought forward sooner than expected.
- Balance contraction of the nuclear sector by promoting the Marsh as an area of positive change with a high quality of life helping to make it an attractive place for people to live.
- Capitalise on the staycation and “active experiences” market to support post-Covid economic recovery on the Marsh by providing new incentives for people to visit, stay longer and spend more while encouraging local families to use their local beach therefore reducing car-miles.
- Implement a balanced approach to supporting the economy while protecting from heavy visitor pressure on the habitat of the Dungeness complex south of the site by providing a robust and attractive alternative destination, better able to accommodate visitors.
- Improve the site’s currently poor visual quality and introduce better environmental management to maintain and enhance the adjoining SSSI including boardwalks, interpretation, beach cleaning and vegetation management, and to increase awareness of the site’s ecological interest by working with the Romney Marsh Countryside Partnership, schools, and volunteers and visitors including practical conservation tasks and in the field learning.
- Providing space for new beachside businesses thereby assisting job creation and indirectly supporting existing local hospitality sector businesses close to the site by attracting new customers.
- Working with existing water sports providers (The Varne Boat Club & Folkestone Harbour Watersports) to develop new activities for local people and visitors with opportunities for training and provision made within the site for future expansion.
- Working with two new businesses, The Foiling Collective and Infinity Water sports, The Romney Marsh Partnership Board considered the proposal in outline at its March and July 2021 meetings and supports the project based on its potential for enhancing the tourism offer of the Marsh and diverting visitor pressure from the New Romney Coastal Community Team & New Romney Town Council.
New Romney Coastal Community Team was established in 2017 with the support of government funding including Magnox, and encompasses a number of statutory, private and public sector organisations. Its New Romney Socio-Economic Plan was developed with significant local input and consultation identifies improving the offer on the coastal strip as a priority and a potential project for the area.
The project also links well to the Town Council’s adjoining ‘Littlestone Greens’ open space which is owned by the Town Council incorporates a play area and outside gym. This project would significantly enhance the existing offer for the benefit of both local residents, businesses and visitors and provide an opportunity for further improvements to be made to the Greens in the longer term.
The Romney Marsh Partnership, has discussed the project at two board meetings and is strongly supportive of the proposal. RMP partner Visit Kent, the official Destination Management Organisation for Kent and Medway, responsible for supporting and growing the tourism industry, was particularly welcoming of the proposal.
Informal consultation has also been undertaken with local groups such as New Romney Town Council, The Varne Boat Club and The Roger De Haan Charitable Trust and the scheme outline has proven hugely popular.
Planning permission will be required and this will lead to further consultation with local communities to ensure that the project is developed to the best advantage of all affected.
We welcome your thoughts
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