Published: 16:00, 11 July 2018
A run-down mall in a town centre looks set for a £850,000 revamp which could see it turned into offices and homes.
Medway Council has announced today it intends to splash the cash on The Britton Farm Mall to transform it from a run-down empty shopping centre into office accommodation and possibly some new homes.
Councillors will discuss the proposition next Thursday, July 19, at the full council meeting.
If the plans go ahead, the offices could be snapped up by The Kent and Medway NHS Partnership Trust (KMPT), which has apparently indicated an interest in renting the space if it is redesigned.
Next week at the meeting, Cllrs will discuss a proposal to allocate the cash from the council's capital programme to redevelop the building's empty supermarket to turn it into offices.
Traders in Gillingham hit out at the council last December almost a year after the anchor tenant pulled out of the site.
People running businesses in the area said the place had gone to 'rack and ruin' after Budgens supermarket quit in February 2017.
At the time they accused Medway Council of neglecting the site, which they said was dirty, vandalised and not cleaned regularly.
They also claimed the bottom part of the car park smelled of urine and was blighted by anti-social behaviour and rough sleepers.
In response, the council said the premises has recently undergone a deep clean and plans for the Budgens unit were being considered.
The annual rent would be about £170,000, with council leader Alan Jarrett describing the mall as “essential” to Gillingham High Street.
However, shopkeepers and a cafe owner said they couldn't see much had been done.
A ramp leading to the mall at the Jeffery Street entrance was broken and has not been repaired despite several complaints.
Carol Welch has been running Liddelows Larder Bakery on the corner of the mall for about 35 years.
She felt the place needed refurbishing and said cleaning was only done when traders complain and send in photographic evidence.
At the time, she said: “It has just got worse since the supermarket closed down.
“There are rodents running about and pigeon mess everywhere and even a dead one in the netting.
“Who wants to come to shop in a place like this? But we still have to keep going.
“There is no cleaning done here on a regular basis and the roof leaks like a sieve."
Omer Copur has run the Oasis cafe situated near the Jeffery Street entrance since 2001.
He said he'd started delivering food to people’s homes to keep his business going as hardly anyone visits the centre.
Traders also said the mall has been neglected by the council for years.
David Bird, 78, has been running Look Now opticians in nearby Skinner Street, for the past 35 years and says even his business is suffering because no one bothers going to that part of the high street.
He said: “There is no footfall anymore.
“This used to be a financially prosperous place, but now the east part of the High Street is just begging for customers.”
Today, Cllr Adrian Gulvin, Medway Council’s head of resources, said: "The shopping centre has been vacant for a long time and has become an eyesore for the residents and businesses in the area.
"We know that there is demand for much needed office accommodation locally and we believe this will be an excellent option for the site.
"This proposal, if approved by full council, will be great for the local community and benefit businesses in the area.
"We are committed to revitalising Gillingham town centre and ensuring the vibrancy of the High Street.”
A report on the proposal will be available in the full council agenda, which will be published on Medway Council’s website today.
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