Section two

Town centre strategies

Canterbury city centre issues and opportunities

Canterbury city centre is the largest town centre in the District and, together with Maidstone, is the main shopping destination in Kent.

It is the main administrative centre in the District and a focus for services and cultural activities.

The Retail and Leisure Study 2020 (RLS) reports the city centre is performing well and is of regional and national significance. There is high footfall and a comprehensive offer that focuses on comparison retail, such as shops selling clothing or household goods, and leisure services.

Being a cathedral city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the environmental quality of the city is very high.

Because of this Canterbury’s economy focuses on tourism. The city has around 7.2 million tourists per year, with an estimated spend of £45 million.

There is also a strong commercial offer including Whitefriars, home to a number of popular high street names, and a Fenwicks department store. The historic areas of the King’s Mile, Westgate and St Dunstan’s have a good range of specialist and independent shops and boutiques.

The city faces some major challenges including:

  • the impact of congestion
  • car parking provision
  • cost of economic development
  • quality of life
  • public health

Reducing congestion and improving air quality is key aspiration to making the town centre a more attractive and desirable place to visit.

Active travel, such as walking and cycling, will be encouraged, as well as measures which reduce using private cars.  This includes improvements to Park and Ride and public transport.

Another challenge is to diversify the centre and meet the growth demand. The Retail and Leisure Study (2020) reports that the centre lacks convenience retail, for buying everyday items. This, together with additional leisure uses, will be needed during the plan period to meet additional growth forecasts. 

The Economic Development and Tourism Study 2020 (EDTS) found that although the city centre was a popular office location, there is not enough good quality office accommodation. There is also a lack of recent office development, this is restricting growth.

A range of commercial and leisure space will be needed for co-working and to provide small scale flexible workspaces.

While the centre faces challenges, it also has a number of key assets and opportunities.

The City’s schools, colleges and universities are renowned for the strength of their research, which makes a significant difference across many areas of community life. There are chances to increase the commercial opportunities from this research.

Digital connectivity can be maximised across the centre to allow business innovation and growth, and shape how residents and visitors experience our centres.

Residential development can play an important role in ensuring the vitality of town centres. Town centre living allows residents to access quality local services within easy reach of sustainable transport infrastructure.

With more residents living within or close to a centre, using the businesses there, supporting the local economy and jobs, there is a boost to the sense of vitality and vibrancy in the area.

Residential redevelopment in centres normally uses brownfield land. These sites are often suitable for different housing types and tenures for different groups including older people.

Residential development should be carefully located to avoid conflict with existing uses, particularly those that serve the evening and night-time economy.

Canterbury is an attractive city and is a key cultural and heritage destination. Since the first pilgrims arrived in medieval Canterbury, the city has been welcoming visitors. It is a source of literary inspiration, a seat of learning, home to world class heritage and architecture, and an area with good hospitality.

It is important that the city’s attractive character is enhanced and celebrated to reinforce the distinctiveness of the town centre and to promote Canterbury as a special place to live and visit.

There is an opportunity to use Canterbury’s culture and heritage to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. The Economic Development and Tourism Study (2020) adds that the offering for visitors can be improved by providing more visitor accommodation. There is a specific need for a conference hotel.

In a busy town centre like Canterbury the quality of public spaces is important for attracting investment and maintaining a safe, convenient and enjoyable daily experience for residents, traders and visitors.

Canterbury has attractive and well loved streets, parks and riversides which can be used to reinforce character and distinctiveness and celebrate key attractions such as the streets and alleyways, the markets, independent retailers and the high quality historic buildings. There is an opportunity for animating the streets with public art, cultural events and by restoring green areas and open spaces. This will help create an attractive environment that mitigates climate change and contributes to the ecological network.

An overarching vision for Canterbury was developed using evidence and feedback from the issues consultation and stakeholder workshops. The vision and guiding principles will help shape the Canterbury City Centre Strategy. The principles are interrelated and in combination will contribute to realising the vision.

The vision for Canterbury is to build its success as the key visitor and shopping destination in Kent by diversifying its offer through creative and cultural development and providing a range of commercial, leisure and residential floorspace to meet projected growth needs.

Improving the commercial offer, intensifying and capitalising on its unique heritage assets, rich townscape, and academic institutions will encourage innovative businesses to invest in the city, stimulate activity, grow footfall and contribute to the vibrancy and vitality of the centre.

Canterbury will experience significantly reduced traffic congestion through a decisive switch towards active travel which will improve health, quality of life and the environment. Taken with a high quality public realm that integrates public art, high quality landscaping and new green infrastructure the city will be an animated, safe and attractive place.

Strengthening the city’s public realm and open spaces will also reinforce the character and distinctiveness of the city’s heritage, help mitigate climate change and contribute to the ecological network ensuring Canterbury is a desirable place to live, work, visit and do business.

An improved visitor experience will ensure Canterbury continues to be a flourishing visitor destination, welcoming tourists to the city and offering an attractive gateway to the wider district.

  • Maintaining the city’s function as a sub-regional centre, providing and creating a wide range of town centre uses and services to  grow footfall and contribute to the vibrancy and vitality of the centre
  • Facilitate business growth and development  in the city by supporting the growth and development of the universities to stimulate business startups and associated economic development
  • Growing the residential population by converting space above shops and developing mixed use and residential schemes, making effective use of land to attract a variety of residents that will contribute to town centre vitality, footfall and expenditure
  • Improve connectivity between different areas and visitor attractions to create a more legible town centre environment, supported by enhanced digital infrastructure
  • Facilitating a significant increase in opportuntities for waking, cycling active travel and sustainable transport to ease congestion and improve air quality and people’s health
  • Positively exploit the city’s heritage to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits
  • Improving public spaces including new public art and lighting and new green infrastructure and landscaping
  • Fostering a vibrant cultural and creative offer to embed Canterbury city centre as a core attraction and the heart of community life. New festivals, events and themes to support town centre activity, attract visitors and maximise footfall

Herne Bay issues and opportunities

Herne Bay is a seafront town on the North Kent coast, nine miles north of the city of Canterbury. The town centre is highly accessible by public transport and car but has a limited level of parking provision. The town centre includes a series of areas along Central Parade, Mortimer and High Streets.

The RLS (2020) identifies that although the centre has a strong comparison and retail service provision, it suffers from a below average presence of hospitality uses particularly restaurants, cafes and public houses which limits the evening and night-time economy. Additionally, the EDTS (2020) notes the centre doesn’t fully capitalise on its visitors staying given the very limited hotel, self catering and or holiday lets in the town. As such, to address these weaknesses and to expand existing markets the centre needs to diversify so that it becomes a place with a mix of complementary uses with a good range of shops, housing, offices, a range of tourist accommodation as well as social and cultural enterprises. A flexible strategy is required to create a more vibrant centre and put in place the economic conditions required to safeguard its future and to enable the town to exploit new commercial prospects.

There are a number of vacant and gap sites on the seafront which present opportunity for mixed use redevelopment within the town centre that potentially includes hotel, residential or office uses. Indeed, the EDTS (2020) reports a good level of demand for small scale, flexible workspace in the area so there is an opportunity to grow co-working spaces to attract high value industries. This approach could be supported by a growth in digital connectivity to kick start business innovation and growth and shape residents and visitors’ experience of the centre.

The seafront along Central Parade attracts visitors and provides a natural leisure focus to Herne Bay. It is vitally important that leisure and tourism uses are supported along the seafront that are complementary to the town centres and encourage economic growth. However, it is also important to draw people into the other areas of the town centre as these currently suffer from low footfall levels. One of the key issues identified within the RLS (2020) is the sense of disconnect between the seafront and wider town centre. The seafront is a relatively popular area for visitors, but the town centre is not benefitting from this, and experiences low footfall levels in comparison. The RLS (2020) indicates that economic growth within Herne Bay may be restricted by this disconnect and recommends measures to significantly improve connectivity.

The Beach Street redevelopment project will enable people to move more easily between the seafront and shops, cafés and other amenities in the town centre, however more needs to be done to encourage people to travel between the different locations. Using wayfinding, for instance, to boost the legibility of the centre to enhance user experience for tourists and visitors, reconnect the Mortimer Street and High Street to the sea front frontage and increase connectivity to, from, and within the town centre. This could be supported by improvements in active travel particularly walking and cycling routes around the town centre and linking more widely to transport hubs and neighbouring towns. Also, it is important that parking provision and tariffs are set at levels that do not deter usage.

As a former flourishing Victorian seaside resort, Herne Bay is a historic town full of attractive period architecture including pier, clocktower, bandstand, colourful vintage beach huts and seafront gardens. To better celebrate this distinctive character, shopfronts and buildings that have become unkempt can be revitalised and a range of high quality public realm improvements delivered to attract investment and create a safe, convenient and enjoyable daily experience for residents, traders and visitors.

Herne Bay also has a good range of public spaces including the seafront, parks & squares that adds character to the town and provides spaces where people can sit and relax, and gather. These spaces can be further animated with art and cultural events to encourage vibrancy and secure benefits for the wider town centre area. Also, the streets and open spaces can be greened to support climate change mitigation and to benefit biodiversity.

Emerging from the evidence, issues consultation and stakeholder workshop, an overarching vision for Herne Bay town centre was developed. The vision and objectives will shape the town centre strategy for Herne Bay.

The vision for Herne Bay is for a thriving town with a diverse economy with a competitive core that attracts investment and employment. The centre will have high quality public spaces and legible and attractive pedestrian and cycle links between the seafront, shopping areas, the rail station and the wider suburbs. The seafront will be the focus of regeneration, with well designed new buildings complementing the historic environment.

The town’s heritage, range of open spaces and seaside location will deliver new opportunities for shopping, community and & leisure events. Digital working and clean energy will make Herne Bay the place of choice for residents and businesses wanting a more contemporary, greener lifestyle. Improved connectivity to surrounding countryside and coast, including Whitstable will also provide healthy walking and cycling opportunities.

  • Providing and creating a wide range of town centre uses including opportunities for job creation and creative industries that stimulate activity, grow footfall and add to the vibrancy and vitality of the centre
  • The seafront will be reinvigorated through the enhancement of public spaces and the regeneration of seafront buildings – including with contemporary design – to create a dynamic and vibrant place for people to socialise and spend leisure time
  • Increase residential occupancy within the town centre including making use of space above shops for residential
  • Significantly improving the connectivity between the different areas of the town centre, particularly Central Parade, High Street and Mortimer Street and the railway station as well as the wider suburbs 
  • Opportunities for movement by foot, cycle and public transport will be maximised and we will balance the desirability and convenience of car parking in the centre with the transition to more sustainable transport modes Improving traffic flow on the road network and balancing the desirability and convenience of car parking in the centre with the transition to more sustainable transport modes
  • Enhance digital infrastructure where it preserves the historic environment and support improvements to strategic infrastructure, including power and water, to the benefit of communities and businesses  
  • Positively exploit Herne Bay’s rich heritage to develop tourism and the local economy to benefit residents, visitors and businesses
  • Enhance public and open space to deliver new opportunities for shopping, community and leisure events to encourage more people to visit the town centre. New festivals, events and themes will be developed to support town centre activity and maximise footfall

Whitstable issues and opportunities

Whitstable is a seaside town on the north coast of Kent in south-east England, 11 km north of Canterbury and 8 km west of Herne Bay. Whistable in comparison to other district centres is more compact in that it is a traditional high street, which runs north-east to south-west through the town and forms the centre’s heart. The majority of retailers line Harbour, High and Oxford Street’s are independent retailers, art galleries, boutiques and gift shops which contribute significantly to the overall diversity, attractiveness and viability of the town centre’s offer. The RLS (2020) identifies Whistable as having an extremely low vacancy rate when compared with the national average.

Although the town centre is in good health, the RLS (2020) there are weaknesses that need addressing to maintain the centre’s healthy status and to further strengthen Whitstable’s position in the wider hierarchy. Foremost among these is the high levels of congestion in the High Street and Oxford Street. This congestion disrupts the bus services that serve the town and pedestrians can spill onto the carriageway where the footways are narrow. Also, there is a lack of cycle routes linking the centre to surrounding areas. A key aspiration of the strategy, therefore, will be to lower traffic levels through the centre to significantly improve the pedestrian environment and air quality. Also, active travel projects including additional cycle lanes will encourage walking and cycling and a review of car parking will also help alleviate traffic congestion.

Another challenge is to meet the growth demand. The RLS (2020) reports that the centre has a below national average convenience presence that will need addressing over the longer term. However, the historic pattern of the centre lends itself to a limited scale of development for expansion in this area so floorspace could be identified and allocated as opportunity sites. This would enhance the centre’s market share, act as an anchor and subsequently attract higher footfall levels.

The entire town centre is picturesque with a distinctive character. It has important connections to the fishing and shell-fish industry, is known for its gastronomic ‘centre of excellence’ and has a thriving artists’ community. The town’s distinctive character and ambience has led to a strong tourist industry, which is promoted each year by the Oyster Festival. It is vitally important that the town’s attractive character is enhanced and celebrated to reinforce the character and distinctiveness and to promote Whitstable as a special place to live and visit. Whistable can also capitalise on the town’s rich and distinctive heritage, culture and quality of place to enhance quality of life, support tourism and the local economy for residents, visitors and businesses. An enhanced public realm can further animate the town centre and new and improved planting and green infrastructure will support wildlife, biodiversity and complement the coastal wildlife sites.

Emerging from the evidence, issues consultation and stakeholder workshop, an overarching vision for Whitstable town centre has been developed. The vision and objectives will shape the town centre strategy for Whitstable.

Whitstable will continue to be an attractive, distinctive coastal town offering a variety of independent businesses and services for residents and visitors. Its unique blend of shops, bustling harbour and coastal heritage will continue to thrive, along with its expanding art and cultural scene. More opportunities for walking, cycling and public transport use will help make the town centre’s streets a pleasant environment for residents and visitors.

  • Providing a range of compatible uses including entrepreneurship and creative industry that reflect the character of the area, add to the vibrancy and vitality of the centre and maintain the town centre at the heart of the community it serves
  • Promoting higher density development where it can be accommodated and making use of space above shops for residential
  • Digital infrastructure to all new residential and business developments and provide enhanced digital infrastructure where it preserves the historic environment
  • Improving the town centre environment by reducing the dominance of traffic, providing low carbon travel options including new and extended cycle and walking network and enhanced public realm
  • Protect, improve and capitalise on the town’s rich and distinctive heritage, culture and quality of place to enhance quality of life, support tourism and the local economy for residents, visitors and businesses

Give us your views on the town centre strategies