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Within weeks, councillors will decide whether to accept a plans for an £85m shopping park off the M20.
Campaigners in the town centre say it could have a devastating effect on retail in the high street.
On the face of it, the renovation of Newnham Court shopping centre sounds like a good idea.
Currently home to an outdated Notcutts garden centre, a few retail units, a nursery and a pub, the proposals put forward by site owners Land Securities would make it unrecognisable.
Just off Junction 7 of the M20, the plan includes building large Waitrose and Debenhams stores and moving the garden centre into a new purpose-built outlet on land to the east of the site.
Set to create more than 1,000 jobs, it has won the backing of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, Turkey Mill business park and businesses such as the Hilton Maidstone Hotel in Eclipse Park across the road.
Land Securities estimates that by 2018 – when the development is complete and full – Waitrose will have a turnover of £31m a year, Debenhams £15m a year and Notcutts £8m a year, with the other retail units £40m a year between them.
With a total turnover of £94 million a year, plus retail revenue from the Next at Home store set to be built in time for Christmas in Eclipse Park, that equates to a lot of shopping potential.
Travel a mile into the centre of town and the picture is not so bright. Town centre manager Bill Moss said: “A lot of that money will be taken straight out of Maidstone.
"We have got a thriving town centre. If Newnham Court goes ahead, immediately investment plans for Maidstone will go on the backburner because big retailers will think Newnham Court sounds attractive.
“Once tenants start moving up to Newnham Court, we will be left with holes in the high street that will take a long time to fill.
“The figure from Land Securities show the combined impact of Newnham Court and the Next at Home store will have an adverse affect on the town of 3.9%.
"Retailers are horrified that when this opens, their takings will drop that much. We are not against the development. We are against where it is.
"Bring it into the town centre and we will welcome it with open arms.”
Ironically, Land Securities has played a large part in the resurgence of Maidstone in recent years. The FTSE 100 firm bankrolled Fremlin Walk, until it sold the site to Legal & General Property in 2011 for £92m.
The company owns 19 shopping centres and 16 retail parks in the UK – including Westwood Cross in Broadstairs and Lakeside retail park in Thurrock – and says its latest project will not harm Maidstone.
Development director Chris Ward said: “This will not attract a town centre offer. It is not where the public can go and sit all day.
"Maidstone town centre has evolved really well. The formula is great and we don’t want to interrupt that.
“The town centre needs to give people an experience so they stay for longer because you have got to fight the traffic to get in and then park.
"An edge-of-town offer is much more about convenience. It will drag in spending that otherwise goes elsewhere.”
Maidstone Town Centre Management want Land Securities to show an interest at a development site at Maidstone East station, which they say “would adequately house a development of the type at Newnham Court”.
That would solve the other major issuing hanging over the site – the increased traffic levels a revamped Newnham Court would bring.
This month, Land Securities announced £6m of road improvements it would implement if planning permission is approved, including traffic lights and dualling a section of road.
This will also have to help cope with increased traffic caused by the new £85m seven-acre hospital, the Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery, due to open next door in April.
Mr Moss said: “£6m is peanuts given the overall scale of this.
"The idea of putting traffic lights on the M20 roundabout is to be applauded but I don’t think it will cover the adverse affect on local people with extra traffic movements.”
The two sides remain at loggerheads on the issue but will have to wait a little longer for a decision on Land Securities’ planning application.
The planned date for its discussion in council – February 27 – has been put back.
There is no deadline on when it will make a decision.
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