Dover’s deja vu

If I start talking about a “multi-million pound development” designed to regenerate “barren acres” in Dover town centre, what springs to mind?

How about if I tell you it’s a scheme “designed to provide a large supermarket, shops, and a 525-space roof car park” which “has been on the books for 20 years with repeated forecasts that work was to start soon”?

My guess is that if you live in Dover today you would assume I’m referring to the DTIZ, a shopping and leisure complex which it is hoped will drive the regeneration of land north of Townwall Street.

Well, you’re close. Very close. But I’m actually talking about the Roman Forum shopping centre. Never heard of it? Well that’s because it was never built.

Just the other day I was delving through the Express archives from June 1985 when I stumbled across a front page story announcing that work would begin in the autumn on this massive project.

The similarities with today’s long-running DTIZ saga are uncanny. Both proposals rely on a supermarket to drive economic regeneration in the surrounding area. Both were continually promised by a district council hoping to bring derelict areas back to life. One never came to fruition and the other – well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

During my time in Dover there has been one complaint I hear all the time from people in the town. Over and over they tell me they are sick and tired of living in a place where the unofficial motto seems to be: “Coming Soon”.

The 1985 story says: “In July 1984 Dover District Council leaders predicted the Market Square development would begin in October. Last autumn they were saying it would start by the year’s end.”

Doesn’t sound all that dissimilar to the talk coming from Whitfield in recent times promising that things will get moving soon.

The current DTIZ plans, further delayed after Asda pulled out as anchor tenant, have been on the drawing board for years. Plans for the Roman Forum were also discussed for decades, but all the talk came to nothing.

Many in the town, and I count myself among them, are sceptical about the DTIZ, question what it will really do for Dover and believe it may never become a reality. Having looked back 25 years and seen how empty talk was proved to be just that, it is easy to see why some fear history might be about to repeat itself.

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