Published: 10:00, 23 July 2014
A new multi-storey car park costing £3 million is to be built in Sittingbourne.
The proposal for Swale council to build and operate the car park was agreed by cabinet last Wednesday and is expected to be rubber-stamped when a full meeting is held on July 30.
It will be created on the current car parking area across St Michael’s Road from Kwik Fit and will provide between 220 and 270 spaces.
It is likely to be funded either through the use of reserves, or borrowing, or a combination of both.
A number of council-owned car parks will be lost directly or indirectly during phase one of the town’s regeneration works.
They include Cockleshell Walk (102 spaces), The Forum (65), Sprint Street (72), St Michael’s Road (78) and Station Street (22) – a total of 252 long stay and 87 short stay spaces.
Sites in Albany Road and the corner of St Michael’s and Bell roads will be upped to long stay.
But the Labour Group says it has “grave misgivings” about the whole process. Leader Cllr Mike Haywood said: “It is an astonishing amount of taxpayers’ money to throw at something without knowing the odds of success.
“The council has been forced to commit the funding because they know they cannot provide a cinema without it, but there is no guarantee it will be built or that the town can sustain one with seven screens.
“They lack the expertise. They don’t build car parks or cinemas. They are going in on a whim.
“At the same time, they are cutting car parking spaces and making many long stay, like the one in Albany Road, despite the impact this will have on the High Street.”
Shadow cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Roger Truelove, said: “The idea of funding a car park was never part of the original agreement.
“There was a long period of inaction and then the developers came back with this demand on the council.
“We are still very dubious and we fear that Swale is going to be left with a white elephant and a substantial hole in reserves.
“There is an element of trying to save face after years of disappointment.”
Regeneration director Pete Raine said: “Housing will go on some of the car parks [that are being lost] so we need to replace them before we remove them or there won’t be enough spaces.
“I’m hoping a planning application will be submitted in October, along with the rest of the proposals for the town, and that it will be consented in January.
“I would imagine the Spirit of Sittingbourne [the council’s chosen development partner] will want to start work as soon as possible as will we, so building could begin in spring next year.
“We do have reasonable levels of reserves – I don’t have the exact figure to hand but it’s over £10 million – so it makes sense to invest some of it in to the town centre.”
As part of its consultation period, the Spirit of Sittingbourne will be giving away free ice creams in the middle of the Forum car park this Friday, 25 July.
Residents will be asked to complete a two-minute survey on how the area can be made into a better place.
Other events will follow throughout July and August.
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