Published: 14:38, 23 August 2017
A beloved former leisure centre destroyed by a huge fire will not be replaced by housing, the council that owns the site has insisted.
Fleet Leisure and Sports Club in Nelson Road, Northfleet, was engulfed in flames yesterday evening, with at least 35 firefighters left to battle the blaze for at least three hours.
Nearby residents were evacuated from their homes as the smoke spread, which tragically killed a woman's young dog.
The once popular venue's destruction came just weeks after Gravesham council revealed it was still hunting for a new tender, with ambitious plans to restore the site since its 2013 closure repeatedly falling through.
With many locals cynical about the potential construction of new homes to replace the centre, the council has been quick to assure people that it remains committed to seeing it returned to its former glory.
A spokesman said: "The council is aware that there are rumours circulating that the site could be used for housing but wishes to emphasise that these are completely false and that there is cross party agreement that the site must be returned to sporting and community use at the earliest possible opportunity."
Cllr Sandra Garside (Con), the council’s cabinet member for sport, leisure and the arts, brought the issue of the centre's continued disuse before colleagues at a recent meeting.
It was agreed to advertise the facility to external organisations and award a long-term lease, subject to planning, to have it restored, and the council expects to issue tender documents to interested parties in September.
Gravesham Community Leisure Limited, which was previously earmarked as the company to take on Fleet Leisure, already runs Cascades Leisure Centre and Cygnet Leisure Centre, the latter of which was made available as a rest centre for evacuees on Tuesday night.
Council leader Cllr David Turner said: “I kept in touch with events last night and would like to thank not only the emergency services and council officers for their professional response to what was a very significant incident but also the residents who displayed fortitude, courage and resilience in the face of very difficult circumstances.
"We don’t yet know the cause of the fire but this event will serve to make us work even harder to return the former Fleet Leisure site to its rightful place as a centre for sport and community activity.”
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