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Credit - ViDi air
Credit - ViDi air

The Leas Lift

Folkestone, Kent, England

The Folkestone Leas Lift Company CIC

Victorian engineering in the 21st-century

The Leas Lift in Folkestone is a cliff funicular railway, constructed in 1885 to transport people between the Leas promenade on the clifftop and the beach below. The lift is powered by water and gravity and is one of the few remaining water lifts in the UK.

Having saved 36.4 million people a steep climb between the seafront and clifftop since opening, the Victorian lift was deemed unsafe and closed in 2017. Further deterioration meant that the Grade II*-listed railway and its buildings were placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2019. The Folkestone Leas Lift CIC was set up in 2018 by local volunteers to bring the lift back into use and develop the waiting rooms into new visitor facilities.

The Leas Lift development will create a model example of sustainable heritage. Its historic, highly energy-efficient system has a small carbon footprint, emits no pollution, and recycles all the water used to drive the carriages.

The project’s Sustainability Strategy builds on these credentials and aspires to meet strong carbon and sustainability goals both in its construction and operation. The lift’s heating and hot water needs will be provided by air source heat pumps. A natural ventilation strategy and heat recovery system will maintain thermal comfort and reduce energy consumption. The biodiversity of the site will be improved by planting between and around the tracks and adding a new green roof planted with local, maritime adapted species. Finally, the reopened lift will play a key role in promoting walking and cycling locally, offering strong connection links from the site to the surrounding area, cycle storage facilities, and hire bike locations at the top and bottom stations.  

A conventional lift produces 0.3kg of CO2 per person. There have been 36.4 million trips on the Leas Lift, so just imagine how much carbon has been saved by Victorian innovation!

The Architectural Heritage Fund has supported the project with a Project Viability Grant to help develop concept designs, complementing ongoing support from Folkestone & Hythe District Council. Section 106 funding of £750,000 has already been allocated, linked to the regeneration of the seafront by Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company Ltd, and in recognition of the strategic importance of the lift as a means of transport into the town centre for residents of the new beach-front housing. The project is now seeking the additional funds needed to realise their vision.

Backed by strong local community support, the Leas Lift project has the potential to turn this Victorian technological marvel into an exemplar, low-carbon transport solution for Folkestone.

Ed Wealand, Engineering Director at Folkestone Leas Lift CIC said:

“The Leas Lift is a living demonstration of how Victorian engineering innovation can lead to long-term sustainability. It is our aim to retain as much of the heritage engineering as possible, enhancing it with modern safety measures, to enable the lift to continue to provide a low-carbon means of transport long into the future."

The Folkestone Leas Lift

The Folkestone Leas Lift Company CIC

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