The Folkestone Saga – Triennial Precedes Demolition of Victorian Landmark

There has been good media coverage (BBC Culture Show and the Architects Journal to name but two) of the current Folkestone Triennial.  What has seemingly escaped most reporters is that the same organisation sponsoring this contemporary art-fest will shortly be responsible for the wholesale destruction of Folkestone’s spectacular harbour bridges, and railway link to the rest of the UK.  Laughingly, the Triennial bills itself as “Sculpture, photography, film, installations, sound-work & performances inspired by Folkestone’s past, present and future” the very “past” that is planned for annihilation, and a “future” that will be much the worse for the loss of historical perspective.


The railway viaduct and swing bridge cross the inner harbour.  The infrastructure may need a refresh but in my opinion it is an attractive and functional element that should be retained.

Roger De Haan’s Folkestone Harbour Company purchased the harbour in 2003 using funds from the sale of his family’s Saga travel business; that’s the one specialising in vacations and financial services for the over-50s.  As part of the redevelopment Master Plan, as prepared by Foster+Partners, the 159-year old branch line railway will be totally demolished.

De Haan’s philanthropy is surely well meaning and generally to be applauded, especially by the inhabitants of the seaside town.  However, Foster should know better than to propose a purely clean-sweep approach that will deny the town of an important part of it’s heritage; prevent the development of a useful transport corridor; and the retention of what should be a much loved tourist asset.



The Folkestone Harbour branch railway curves gracefully through the town and across the harbour.  De Haan and Foster propose ripping up the railway and replacing it with a significantly widened road so that cars can flood the harbour redevelopment.  The area may well need some selective pruning during the redevelopment and application of new love but the railway branch line does not strike me as the visual offender.

There may still be a last-minute reprise for the railway and its infrastructure as the operators of the Venice Simplon Orient Express (the British part of the train runs from London to Folkestone Harbour where passengers are detrained for a bus connection to the Eurotunnel Shuttle terminal in Folkestone ) are believed to have made a formal objection against closure.

Let us hope that sense prevails and alternative schemes for reuse of the railway are part of the final redevelopment plan.  Apart from the ongoing use by the Orient Express and occasional steam hauled enthusiast trains (which could be linked with future editions of the Triennial for one) could a park-and-ride scheme not be operated using the likes of the Parry People Mover; there is even ample space for an edge-of-town car park off Western Road, where the harbour branch railway connects with the mainline between Dover and Ashford. <BIPS © 2008>

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