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Ashford: The Croft Hotel in Canterbury Road, Kennington, to become country pub and seafood restaurant

By Georgia Woolf

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.

The Croft Hotel in Canterbury Road, Kennington. Picture: Andy Jones
The Croft Hotel in Canterbury Road, Kennington. Picture: Andy Jones

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.”

Inside The Croft which is being turned into a pub and restaurant. Picture Andy Jones
Inside The Croft which is being turned into a pub and restaurant. Picture Andy Jones

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.

An artist's impression from 2010 shows plans for The Old Mill, which came to fruition in 2012
An artist's impression from 2010 shows plans for The Old Mill, which came to fruition in 2012

“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.

How The Croft looks now
How The Croft looks now

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.

Last year, controversial plans to demolish the hotel were turned down by the council.

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.

Manager Mark Godding inside The Croft
Manager Mark Godding inside The Croft

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.

The Golden Ball was turned into The Old Mill
The Golden Ball was turned into The Old Mill

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."

How The Croft looks inside
How The Croft looks inside

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.

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