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Mark Quinn of Quinn Estates in Canterbury says town centres 'created when people were on horses' and future lies in edge-of-town mixed-use projects

By Chris Price

Town centres are no longer suitable for major commercial developments according to a successful Kent property builder.

Quinn Estates director Mark Quinn says traditional centres “were created when people were on horses” and that councils who oppose edge-of-town developments are living in the past.

The Canterbury-based firm is behind plans for several high-profile mixed-use developments in Kent, including on the former Herne Bay Golf Club, Dane Park in Faversham and Beer Cart Lane in Canterbury.

A CGI of the sports hub in the proposed development for Herne Bay Golf Club by Quinn Estates

His comments were aimed at councils considering their housing targets for the coming decades, most of which have been set out in Local Plans.

This week it was revealed Britain's construction sector grew for the 11th consecutive month.

Housebuilding was the best performing area of growth, partly due to the recently-extended Help-to-Buy scheme.

Mr Quinn said: “Town centres were created when people were on horses. Planning has got to move forward to what people want now.

“There’s going to have to be a shift away from retail in the town centre. Town centres are going to change.

“They have to be residentially led with a good mix of employment, places to live and amenities.”

Quinn Estates managing director Mark Quinn

Some of Mr Quinn’s comments were directed at Maidstone Borough Council, which he feels is too concerned with promoting developments in its town centre.

The authority is considering a planning application by Land Securities for a retail development at Newnham Court shopping centre, adding an out-of-town Debenhams, Waitrose and larger Nottcutts garden centre, creating up to 1,500 jobs.

Yet it gave permission for a Next at Home store to be built a store at the adjacent Liberty Park last year.

The proposed development at Newnham Court
Gallagher Group working on the Next at Home store in Eclipse Park

Mr Quinn said: “Planning permission has been given to Next outside Maidstone because they won’t build in the town centre. But to have stopped Maidstone from having a Next would have been a nightmare.

“Mixed use developments are the key driving force in the next five years. If you’re putting business parks next to residential, no one is going to build it. Sensitivity is the way forward.”

Construction firm Gallagher Group are building the Next store.

Chief executive Nick Yandle said: “The future of town centres is the elephant in the room because people cannot find an easy answer. They are not dealing with it.

Gallagher Group chief executive Nick Yandle

“If you go to Dartford, it is shameful compared to what it was like when I was a kid. We need to do something positive with town centres.

“We lack long term vision of what town centres need to be in the future.

“We need a vision of what we want them to be in 20 years’ time and then put together a process to get towards that. Town centres need to be defined.”

DHA Planning managing director David Hicken

David Hicken, managing director of Maidstone-based development consultants DHA Planning, agreed that councils need to change their planning strategy.

He said: “Planning is obsessed with regulation and has lost its ability to create vision. Too few people in planning are creating a vision for the future.”

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