Published: 00:01, 06 January 2019
| Updated: 09:39, 06 January 2019
A pair of renowned restaurateurs with a proven track record of turning around ailing pubs plan to spend up to £4m transforming a former hotel.
Husband-and-wife team Alex and Helen Bensley have bought The Croft Hotel in Canterbury Road, Kennington, and want to turn it into a country pub with an attached seafood restaurant.
The pair - who turned the nearby Golden Ball into The Old Mill in 2012 - sold five of their restaurants to Shepherd Neame for £11.9 million in 2016.
They have now turned their attentions to The Croft, with plans to remodel the existing building into a cosy country pub with open log fires and local ales and beers.
Mr Bensley said: “My vision for The Croft is to provide a service for the more affluent, business and mature market, which is largely uncatered for in Ashford.
“Unlike the present and expanding over abundance of national eateries, we will offer a menu based around fresh local fish, shellfish and farm produce, with meat from Marchants of Bethersden, as well as a super, fresh vegetarian and vegan menu.”
As well as updating the existing building, Mr Bensley has applied to Ashford Borough Council (ABC) to also extend the site.
If the scheme goes to plan, the pub could open in late autumn, creating 75 jobs.
Mr Bensley - who paid £1.8m for the site once legal costs were taken into account - added: “Subject to council approval, the existing building will be remodelled separately as a quality and traditional Kentish and dog friendly country pub, which will be cosy with open log fires, local ales and beers and a cellar of very good wines.
“There may be a bar menu, but it will not be a restaurant just a good pub, with very comfy chairs.
“Separately, the new part of the building will consist of a huge kitchen, as all of the food will be prepared on site.
“There will be a dedicated oyster and shellfish bar, as well as a large dining room, consisting of booths, and free standing, spacious tables.”
An outside seating area on a heated terrace is also planned, as well as boutique-style accommodation in lodges at the side of the former hotel.
If approved, 175 diners could be catered for, with 125 in the main restaurant area and 50 in the bar area. It would open from 11am to 11pm seven days a week, with a new car park proposed.
Developers wanted to build nine four-bedroom homes on the site, but planning officers at ABC dismissed the proposal, calling the hotel a “valuable tourist facility” which should not be lost.
In 2016, Mr Bensley sold The Old Mill, the Oak on the Green and the Fish on the Green in Bearsted, the Chequers on the Green in High Halden and the Swan and Dog in Great Chart to Shepherd Neame.
He has previously transformed numerous other pubs, including The Hooden Horse in Great Chart.
On the planning application submitted to the council, Lynne Webb - who lives in Bethersden - says she supports the plan.
She said: "We are losing so many pub/restaurants it would be a great asset to Ashford to have a high-class pub, especially in a refurbished run-down hotel which was becoming an eye-sore.
"Putting back in to use an old redundant building giving it new life is a fantastic idea."
Dave Paterson, of Brabourne Lees, agreed, saying: "There has been concern for some time over the fate of The Croft so it is great news that the building is to be rejuvenated."
To view the planning application, visit www.ashford.gov.uk and search for the 18/01709/AS reference.