The Creative Quarter, set in the heart of the town, thrums as visitors duck into artist enclaves, and just a few minutes walk away, the Harbour Arm – a half-mile-long promenade – is abuzz with people as they sample delectable street food.
The idyllic scenes in the town, which is frequently named one of the best places to live in the UK, mask a backlash against future development, as locals fear the area is being gentrified and turned into “a new Dubai”.
Folkestone’s revival is the brainchild of Sir Roger De Haan, previously chair of insurance giant Saga, a company started by his father, Sidney.
He took over the firm after his father’s retirement in 1984, and later sold it for £1.35bn in 2004. He received a knighthood for services to education and charity in 2014.
De Haan has spent more than two decades investing millions in the town through his charitable trust and his development company, the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company.
Locals who spoke to The Independent said there had been significant improvements to Folkestone but were concerned about future building work that will culminate in 1,000 homes along the beach and harbour.
They point to the first stage of the development, the new luxury Shoreline Crescent homes on the seafront, where the cheapest property starts at £430,000 for a one-bedroom flat, far more than most locally can afford.
The as-yet-unfinished properties have prompted mockery as they make a loud whistling sound as the strong seaside air whips along the seafront, annoying locals who complain it has left them struggling to sleep.
Concerns about the direction the town is going in and future development has spawned a campaign group called Block the Blocks to try and prevent the “monstrous” towers.
A petition has gained more than 8,000 signatures. The most recent designs for flats on the seafront were described as looking like a “home for the Flintstones”, “giant turds” and a “millionaire’s vanity project”.
Jasmine Fagg owns Silver by the Sea, a jewellery business that trades in the market on the Harbour Arm, and is concerned about how she and other businesses will be affected.
“A lot of people aren’t feeling great about the Harbour Arm development, especially as we have the market down there,” she says. “They are all going to be million-pound flats, like the new flats that have been built down on the beach.
“People who maybe visit in the summer and don’t know how bad the weather is sometimes and that the flats whistle. A lot of people in the older houses have been complaining about it as they just hear it nonstop.”
The 22-year-old says that rents in the town recently have soared and “it is difficult for young people to move out”.
She adds: “I can’t afford to move out, it’s just crazy. You pay £500 or £600 for a room for a houseshare with four or five other people. The flats they are building are not for people from Folkestone, they are for Londoners or for people who want holiday homes.”
She says there were a lot of positives with Folkestone and pointed out the heavy footfall from tourists and new food and drink businesses opening. And she says Folkestone has “definitely got better compared to what it used to be”, but fears the “looming” redevelopment of the Harbour Arm.
She says: “The amount of tourists and holidaymakers who come down and say how much they love the high street and going down to the Harbour and the beach. That will all completely change and it just won’t have that anymore. I just wonder how much that is going to affect the general footfall for Folkestone.”
Local jeweller Amy Craddock has lived in the town for four years and is hesitant about the direction the town is heading in, saying the new development feels incongruous for the area.
”I don’t really feel like that’s a positive direction for the town to be heading in,” she says. “I’m not anti-development, I just think things could be done in a way that is a bit more sympathetic to its surroundings.
“Maybe something a bit more low level, a bit more considerate for the financial climate at the moment. Not just building great big blocks like Dubai down there.”
The 45-year-old says the development proposals for more luxury flats had changed perceptions of De Haan who was seen as “a bit of a hero for regenerating the town”. However, public opinion now seems to have “backfired on him a little bit”.
Olivia Corriette, 25, a local and floor manager at The Lighthouse Tasting Rooms, has similar concerns about the changes to housing in the area.
She says: “I think it’s going the right way for eating out, drinking out and events going on, but the wrong way property-wise. They are building a lot of beautiful but expensive flats, which unfortunately considering I’m in my twenties I cannot afford.
“Eventually you are hitting a point where you feel like you are getting pushed out of where you’ve grown up because you literally cannot afford it.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of our customers are from London or out of town, they are the ones that are looking at the properties being built and treating them as their holiday homes.”
Local Folkestone bartender Michaela Kolmosova, 24, says: “There are a lot of people unhappy about it. It will change this area [the Harbour Arm] a bit too much, maybe more than people are ready for.”
She adds that locals were concerned about further development “pushing up rents”, but that overall the town has “improved massively” in recent years and become “much friendlier”.
Labour Councillor Bridget Chapman, who represents Folkestone Harbour Ward, says complaints about the development “are a large part of the correspondence I receive from residents”. About the whistling buildings, some locals she spoke to dubbed them “tinnitus towers”.
“My own view is we need housing in the area, but that this development is not providing what the local area needs. The ward that it’s being built in is the 11th most deprived in Kent,” she says. “A number of residents have come to me after being given a Section 21 – a no-fault eviction. The landlords have told them they can get more money from people coming down from London. People are really struggling to keep a roof over their heads.”
She says she agrees with the campaigners and that the town needs more affordable housing for key workers on lower budgets rather than luxury homes, which “is not what the town needs at all”.
In regards to the “whistling” flats, the Folkestone and Harbour Seafront development says: “The minor noise issue will be resolved once the construction works, including the installation of the balconies to West Shoreline are complete”.
Sir Roger De Haan told The Independent he has spent “20-25 years regenerating Folkestone” and that before the recent improvements the local economy was “really struggling”.
He defends his investment in the town and says initiatives from his charitable trust, such as purchasing 90 derelict properties in the old town and leasing them to creatives on a peppercorn rent, had helped “revitalise the economy”.
To the accusations the town was being gentrified, he says: “If I had taken down inexpensive housing and put up expensive housing that would be gentrification, but I am not doing that. The 1,000 new homeowners in the area, will use the shops, bars and restaurants in the town, it will be a significant boost to the local economy.”
In response to criticism of the design of the yet-to-be-built flats, he says that the architects have “moderated the design so they are less cutting edge” and have also lowered the density and widened the streets. He says the modified design had a positive response from the local civic groups.