By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News, Dover
Many of Dover's buildings have seen better days
Residents of Dover could be forgiven for heaving a sigh every time they hear Dame Vera Lynn's classic wartime song.
The 1941 tune White Cliffs of Dover, like the landmark it celebrates, is recognised the world over.
But it also links the town inextricably with the past.
An air of harking back rather than looking forward has hung over Dover for many years, hampering its efforts to create a more modern identity.
Dover's economic marginalisation has been gradual, yet it has been keenly felt by people for whom both earning a living and talking up the town have become equally difficult.
"There have been too many empty promises," says taxi driver Lionel Burt, whose income has been hit in recent years by the fall in tourist numbers - a problem for all Kent's coastal towns - and local job losses.
"Dover is supposed to be the gateway to Europe, but what you see when you get here is very disappointing."
Dissatisfaction with the face that Dover presents to the 15 million people who use its port every year is palpable.
This manifests itself in a seafront that, despite its sandy beaches and elegant facades, is eerily quiet - an unfortunate by-product of it being cut off from the town centre by the dual carriageway leading up to the port - and a rail station best described as genteel.
Dover's main shopping street is livelier, but unhappiness about the absence of many household retail names is not far from the surface.
Dover's beaches are golden but under-used
Yet, despite these obvious handicaps, there is real hope that Dover's recent economic drift can be reversed and its real potential fulfilled.
"There is an immense sense of optimism about the number of things happening around the district," says Nadeem Aziz, chief executive of Dover District Council.
"The trick is to maintain that momentum."
Confidence about the future is centred on the financial strength of Dover's port, currently celebrating 400 years of royal charter status.
The business is flourishing, disproving those who thought the advent of the Channel Tunnel would cripple the cross-channel ferry business.
More than two million lorries passed through Dover last year, 16% up on the year before.
More than 15 million people pass through Dover every year
Dover's Harbour Board has plans to significantly expand the port's facilities to meet the long-term growth in the freight market.
This is a real fillip for the town, about one in four of whom work for businesses linked to the port.
"The prosperity of the port is good news for Dover," says Mr Aziz.
"The fact that the port is expanding gives a bedrock in terms of core employment."
But the port's success has come at a price.
Its size and the infrastructure required for it to remain globally competitive has created a geographic breach with the rest of the town.
Few people travelling to and from the continent actually spend much time, or money, in Dover despite its wealth of historic attractions.
The port's growth has also obscured the desperate need to create more varied, better paid jobs to which local people can aspire.
"While the port is a fantastic asset and a great employer, by and large the employment it offers is fairly low skill, low wage," Mr Aziz acknowledges.
"The diversification of the economy locally has been a huge priority."
Although drug manufacturer Pfizer employs 3,600 people near Sandwich, 20 miles up the coast, attracting multinational firms to Dover remains something of a pipe dream.
The recent approval of the second-phase expansion of Dover's principal business park, a move expected to create 1,800 jobs, is a major boost to a town historically short of modern business premises.
But officials admit skills levels need to rise if different types of companies are to be persuaded to set up in the region and recruit locally.
Taking the initiative
These concerns are echoed by one of Dover's largest businesses, the London Fancy Box Company, which employs 250 people manufacturing and designing specialist packaging.
A market leader with clients such as Estee Lauder, Diageo and Kodak, the family-owned company has for many years run an apprentice scheme to help train staff.
Planners want to improve the look of Dover for visitors and residents
"The big problem with being on the coast is that you only have a 180 degree catchment pool," says its managing director Christopher Lawson.
"Getting enough of the right people is incredibly difficult. Part of our contribution to the town is saying 'if you are prepared to take your future in your hands, we will provide as much support as we can'."
Conscious of Dover's high unemployment rate and underlying social problems, the firm ran its business in the past in a way that enabled it to hire as many staff as possible.
This is no longer feasible.
But Mr Lawson remains adamant that improving education is the key to giving people greater opportunities.
KEY DOVER PROJECTS
Retail centre for Asda and Next
New £2m Sea sports centre
Buckland Mill housing project
Refurbishment of station
Enterprise scheme for firms
"Dover is a place of notoriously low self-esteem, despite the continuing success of the port. Expectations, generally, have been very low.
"For a company looking to inwardly invest in this area, Dover has been a tough proposition, but things are changing. We have found that efforts to shift expectations are richly rewarded."
Pride in Dover
Shifting negative perceptions of the town is the job of Dover Pride, a public private partnership set up 18 months ago to offer a vision for Dover's long-term future.
Improving the appearance of the town centre is a key goal, says programme manager Richard Lawrence.
"We are making progress," he insists.
Perhaps the steadfast optimism of Lynn's song - which ends with the line "tomorrow, just you wait and see" - isn't so inappropriate after all.