A MULTI-million pound project to transform Maidstone East rail station has hit the buffers after a developer raised questions about the future viability of the project.
Network Rail has been in discussions with Maidstone Borough Council for some weeks about a revised scheme, details of which have yet to be made public.
The discussions began after Countryside Properties decided to pull out of the deal – taking the John Lewis Partnership with them – over financial concerns.
It leaves the third part of massive redevelopment plans of the County Town in limbo.
Mark Chatham, director of Countryside Properties, said: "Both Countryside Properties and Waitrose Ltd have reviewed their involvement in the redevelopment of Maidstone East Railway Station.
"While Waitrose remains keen on the site, concerns over the financial viability of the project, particularly in light of a weaker residential market and technical constraints, have made it impossible to proceed on the original terms."
Countryside Properties’ change of heart means The John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, has also walked away from the project, leaving Network Rail without an anchor store for the scheme.
The prestige chain had planned a 95,000 sq ft Waitrose department store, second in size to its flagship food and home outlet in Canary Wharf, London, selling a mix of supermarket goods and John Lewis furnishings and gifts.
When Countryside pulled out, the John Lewis Partnership automatically went with them because they were part of the same deal.
A spokeswoman for the John Lewis Partnership said there was no question of the company considering a different agreement. She said: "With regard to Maidstone East, this site is not being taken forward. As far as we are concerned that’s the end of that. It is not being carried on."
Network Rail has been approached by a new developer with a new anchor store in mind as part of a revised scheme. It is to discuss these latest proposals with Maidstone council, ahead of a planning application next year.
It is understood many of the elements of the original proposals will remain in the new scheme, including shops, a new transport interchange and a rebuilt railway station but the number of homes planned around the site have been reduced.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: "Network Rail remains committed to redeveloping Maidstone East station and the surrounding area.
"However, it is unable to accept the revised offer from the developer and is considering alternative options. Discussions with Maidstone council about the redevelopment of the station have progressed and it’s hoped more will be announced."
Trevor Gasson, deputy chief executive at Maidstone council, said: "It is quite common for landowners and developers to repackage schemes several times before they start on site.
"Network Rail has done just this and now has viable proposals which I believe will be of great benefit to Maidstone town centre. I anticipate a formal announcement early in the New Year."