Published: 00:04, 21 January 2017
Sandwich Town Council has continued to defend its actions over the Drill Hall, after more than 200 people voted in favour of a business setting up there.
Last week, KentOnline's sister paper the Mercury reported that the council had listed the Drill Hall on The Quay as an asset of community value (ACV), a move that scuppered plans to use the building for a funeral parlour business.
On Saturday, Dean Macey, a partner in taxi firm Sandwich Cars, asked social media users to share how they felt via Facebook.
He asked: “Should the hall become a business, bringing prosperity to the Quay?”
More than 200 people were in favour and only three against.
Defending the council, town clerk Laura Fidler said it had been looking to acquire the Drill Hall for the benefit of the community and tourism for nearly two years.
An initial public consultation showed 75% of respondents supported the council’s plans to purchase the building.
She said: “The town-council funded Rummey Design consultancy, which is providing the blueprint for the town’s regeneration plans, specifically considered how the Drill Hall might be used to increase visitor numbers in what is without doubt the town’s most important tourist site – the Quay.”
The building was advertised as a redevelopment opportunity at a guide price of £250,000 throughout November.
When bids were submitted to the MoD, which owns the building, it preferred Ian Dilnot Smith’s offer, despite the council bidding the asking price.
Council members then met and decided the building should be classified as an ACV. It means the MoD is unlikely to be able to sell it to J. Dilnot Smith & Son and the council can be considered as a potential bidder again.
The Mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Paul Graeme, said: “The Drill Hall is in a prime site which many residents wish to see enhanced for visitors. It’s also adjacent to the 14th century Fishergate which the town council already owns, so it makes good sense to have the two buildings together so we can maximise tourism potential and increase visitor numbers in that area.”
Cllr MJ Holloway said: “For past two years we have been in discussion with KCC about a new coach park for Sandwich to replace the coach parking bays along the Quay adjacent to the Drill Hall.
“These discussions are progressing well. The aim is to lessen non-resident vehicle use of the area in preparation for improvements to pedestrian safety, enhancing the surrounding area and increasing visitor numbers.
“A funeral parlour in Sandwich is welcomed but not on this prime site. I hope Mr Dilnot Smith will look for another site - STC stands ready to talk to him about that.”
Cllr Lynne O’Donoghue said: “Many residents have contacted me saying they want to see the council acquire the Drill Hall as an asset to benefit the community, and help in the development plans for the Quay.
“Having invested some £50,000 in the design consultancy, and agreed that its recommendations should be followed, STC is doing its job in getting the Drill Hall designated as a community asset so the plans that are now being drawn up stand a chance of being realised.”
Sandwich Town Council will be consulting residents, organisations, and businesses on its plans in the coming weeks.
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