The Dover Banksy was an iconic piece of art. Wherever you stand on Brexit, it attracted visitors to our area and got people talking.
That’s why so many of us were so deeply disappointed to see it disappear from the side of the former Shakespeare Hotel. We don’t yet know what’s happened – but many suspect the building’s owners have simply painted over it.
Our campaign to save the Banksy at least kept it in Dover for more than two years. The huge piece – thought to be the artist’s largest ever – became something of a landmark. Children and adults stopped and stared. Tourists came from far and wide. News reporters and film-makers pointed their cameras. All of us looked up, appreciating the special tribute to a unique moment in time.
And we fought hard to preserve it. An application was sent to Historic England to have the building listed. It argued the Banksy had strong cultural significance, that given its size and political relevance it could be worth millions of pounds. Historic England previously listed the Abbey Road crossing and even a 1960s Bournemouth bus depot described as hideous. If they are going to list things like that, they should have listed an iconic and culturally important piece of art like our Banksy. Yet they refused. This is the result – and they should hang their heads in shame.
We also tried to engage with the building’s owners – the Godden family, famous in this area as the former owners of the Rotunda in Folkestone and Dreamland in Margate. Sadly, they wrote to me at the time labelling it graffiti. I tried to approach them to arrange a meeting, but they failed to respond. Only a few weeks ago I spoke to the council – who told me they were also finding it difficult to get them to engage.
What a massive shame. Because in Dover and Deal we have not always done well enough at protecting our heritage – at looking after things loved through the ages. Our iconic Prince of Wales Pier was shut down. Near to the Banksy, the Crypt site badly needs sorting out too.
Yet we should not forget the progress we have made. Burlington House was a far less loved part of the local landscape. The huge empty town block blighted the area for years. Now, a shopping and cinema complex has risen in its place. Similarly, the seafront is being transformed. A new marina curve is due to be constructed next year.
Yet we must also fight to protect the great things we already have. Regeneration is about more than just new buildings. This was about protecting a piece of social history for the people it was intended for, their children and grandchildren.
I hope that as we continue to build a brighter future for Dover and Deal, we always remember the past. Our town has long been the gateway and guardian of the nation. We must embrace and celebrate its special role.