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It’s been a long time coming but work on the town’s multi-million pound regeneration scheme could start as early as next March.
Developer, the Spirit of Sittingbourne Consortium, revealed it is now working on a planning application for phase one of the proposal – ready to submit to Swale council before the end of the year.
The consortium is made up of developer Catherdral Group and property consultant Essential Land. Its plan includes a cultural quarter, where the railway station forecourt is.
An entertainment venue, a five-screen cinema and five-to-eight restaurants will be built on the Forum shopping centre car park.
In addition, homes will be built on Spring Street, Cockleshell Walk and Station Street car parks, along with two to six retail units and about 100 car parking spaces on the former waste depot site behind the station.
It’s estimated it will cost in the region of £30 million to deliver and is expected to be completed by summer 2017.
The second phase of the plan off Central Avenue, which will cost about the same, will see the library and Phoenix House replaced with a new council headquarters, including a library, community meeting rooms and a gateway centre for public services.
A college building and medical facilities are also being looked at. However, this is dependent on the success of the first part. More than 1,000 new jobs will be created overall, including construction.
Once the transformation is complete it could boost the local economy by £250 million over 10 years.
The time frame was announced the day after cabinet gave the go-ahead to variations of the original development agreement and the master plan.
Members also agreed to officers preparing a business plan for the local authority to build and operate a multi-storey car park with between 220 and 240 spaces, as part of phase one. The suggested site is the parking area across St Michaels Road from Kwik Fit.
Cathedral Group projects director Rob Sloper said: “What struck us when we first came to Sittingbourne is you come out of the station and you’re hit with different highways and a roundabout.
"This is a barrier to the High Street and when you hit the High Street it’s littered with empty units and agents’ board.
“The mix of uses has been driven by ‘how do we help bring the High Street back to life and bring a vibrance back to Sittingbourne?’ and that is a leisure offering - that is the core of the scheme with a cultural quarter opening up the station and putting in a cinema.
“The idea being you don’t save a High Street by building more shops, there’s already enough, people don’t want to go into them, you have to drive footfall and the idea being that comes from the cinema, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the town who then spill out and go into the shops and spend money there.
“Spade in the ground by March is our current estimate, obviously it’s up to planning but it’s now about getting on site as quickly as possible.”
Essential Land managing partner Darryl Flay said: “We did extensive public consultation for our development at the mill [Morrisons].
"The responses to that are on file and the quest for leisure activities in Sittingbourne was overwhelming, it was cinema, it was nightclub as well, all the things young people want do were top of the list.”
Mr Sloper added: “We don’t sit on sites once we put money down.”
As an example of the cost involved in getting to the planning permission stage it was revealed the Morrisons’ application cost £1 million before any construction work began.
Swale’s director of regeneration, Pete Raine, said: “I’m really excited. It’s been a real slog for four years but now we’re getting to the stage where we’re were actually going to see a planning application and within 12 months something will be coming out of the ground.
“For the people who currently shop in, and are loyal to, Sittingbourne, I thank you for your patience. You have put up with promises for a long time and we will deliver. Thank you for waiting for so long.
“For people at the moment who drive past Sittingbourne and don’t come here I would say it will be worthwhile coming here in a couple of years time.”
Altyon Management Ltd, which left the consortium due to financial difficulties earlier this year, will be announced in the next few weeks.
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