Plans to create a multi-million pound health center in Folkestone’s former Debenhams will prevent it from becoming a ‘great white elephant’ in the city center, it has been claimed.
A proposal to turn part of the old department store – now named Folca – into a medical center serving 30,000 patients was revealed in a report by the Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) cabinet.
The document details plans for two of the city’s GP practices – Manor Road and Guildhall Street – to come together and open a center that would include a primary care facility, a diagnostic center with MRI and x-ray suites, laboratory facilities and training opportunities.
The center is said to be ‘state of the art’, ‘modern’ and cost Â£ 16million, according to the report and if approved.
The new partnership, which would be formed under Premier Primarycare Ltd, would then lease the Folca building to the current owners FHDC, who purchased the Sandgate Road building after Debenhams left the city in January 2020.
The plans were discussed by members of the authority at their cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, where they unanimously approved the terms set out in the report.
These conditions include the offer of a 150-year lease for the transfer of the health center to Premier Primarycare Ltd for a âpremiumâ.
This would be a lump sum rather than an annual rent. The amount is unknown, as members of the public were exempt from this part of the meeting.
Cllr David Wimble (Ind) said he hoped the project would be pushed “forward” as Folca “had the potential to be a big elephant” in the city center, but will now be a key part of its redevelopment plans.
Cllr Tim Prater (LibDem) said the program will not only bring two surgeries together, but “improve what they deliver.”
He said its location is also close to good public transport links.
It is hoped that the health center will create additional footfall on the main street.
It is proposed to create it in the Victorian side of the store, located at the corner of Bouverie Place and Sandgate Road.
A project schedule shows that building permit will be requested next summer, and if all goes ahead, construction could start in late 2022 and be completed by fall-winter 2024.
This is the first phase of Folca’s redevelopment plans. The second phase will include the art deco side of the building, which faces Sandgate Road, with plans to progress separately.
It is understood that a new council office will be established here, providing a customer access point.
Folca is currently in use as a vaccination center for the Covid-19 vaccine.
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