Original article from Kent Live
When Burlington House was razed to the ground in 2016 opinion was divided on what should replace it.
After much stalling – 20 years in the making – it was decided that a mix of retail and leisure for people to shop, eat and relax was what Dover needed.
That place is what we now know as St James retail and leisure park.
READ MORE: New chicken shop set to open in Dover
Businesses began to trickle into the exciting development in early 2018, with Cineworld being the first to open its doors, filling the empty lots one by one.
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But when existing businesses, already based in town, started to follow, it got many Dovorians talking, worried that the £53 development could kill off the old high street by taking business away from it.
Iceland, Superdrug, O2, Marks and Spencer and Shoezone have all deserted their positions from Dover’s traditional shopping areas for ‘the more desirable’ shopping location of St James.
The latest to follow in these footsteps was Holland & Barrett, who left their old building in Biggin Street last Wednesday, (September 1 ) for a bigger, shinier, environmentally friendly unit in St James.
Other businesses, like Costa and Card Factory, have remained in town but have set up additional stores in St James.
In recent years many independent shops' that have been in Dover for years have closed their doors.
Bigger chains like Burton menswear, have left large units empty in areas like Market Square that will be hard to fill again.
The humongous former unit of Dorothy Perkins in Biggin Street has been derelict for years.
Haunting remnants of legs and torsos of mannequins can still be seen in the shop window.
John Angell, of John Angell Jewellers, has been trading in Dover high street for years and is the chairman of the Dover Town team.
He said: “St James is part of Dover now. You can’t turn the clock back.
“The problem is, it has taken shops from the high street. But that was pretty obviously going to happen from the beginning.”
While Mr Angell accepts that St James has stolen some business away from the town, he believes the changes to the high street are just the continuing evolution of them.
Changing shopping habits brought on by the pandemic and the advent of online shopping have not helped.
He said: “Retail is very hard work at the moment.
“With department stores closing, other towns are suffering too, it’s a national problem”.
It’s unclear whether St James is solely responsible for the misfortunes of the businesses that have closed down in Dover, since it’s opening in 2018, but you can’t deny that some businesses like Holland & Barrett feel like it’s the right place to be.
There is hope for the future of Dover high street though.
Work will soon be getting underway on the reinvention of the Market Square.
Dover District Council says the aim of the scheme is to create a welcoming area that has the flexibility to be used for alfresco dining and events, drawing more people into the town to shop.
Could this initiative, and the reimagining of the Townwall Street/A20 Subway, be what finally brings harmony between the controversial St James development and Dover high street?
You can read more about the turbulent history of St James here.