Published: 00:01, 10 January 2019
A new campaign is calling on council bosses to replace a popular community centre as its £150,000 demolition looms.
Contractors are preparing to bulldoze the 50-year-old Bockhanger Community Centre in Kennington and replace it with topsoil until a decision about its redevelopment is made.
But a new online petition, which has been signed by more than 200 people, hopes Ashford Borough Council (ABC) will commit to building a "bigger and better community centre of the highest quality".
Campaigner Diccon Spain, who set up the petition and lives in Charing, said: "Disrespectful is the word that springs to my mind when I think about ABC closing the community centre with no firm commitment or timeline on building a replacement.
"It’s disrespectful to the people of Bockhanger and neighbouring Bybrook. As well as a new community centre I think ABC owe local people an apology.
"The community centre was absolutely vital to all the community but particularly the younger and older age groups.
"I have spoken to a number of local people over the last few weeks who said that now the centre is closed more people have nothing to do, particularly young people, and that many older residents are increasingly lonely and isolated because of the closure.
"By closing the community centre, ABC has ripped the heart out of Bockhanger, and what makes this even worse is that this action goes absolutely against the spirit of their own Local Plan."
An ABC spokesman said the building - which was previously home to home to Bockhanger library - is "sadly beyond economic repair".
He said: "Given the considerable expense of rebuilding the hall, the closeness of other community facilities in the vicinity and the limited use the hall in recent years the decision to knock down Bockhanger Community Centre was made in May last year.
"Over recent years the hall has not been well used and previous tenants such as the library, the nursery and other sports clubs have found more suitable premises at the nearby Sure Steps Children’s Centre in the Phoenix Community School, which is next to the site.
"Surveys were carried out to assess the viability of bringing the hall up to modern standards but they highlighted the poor condition of the building and therefore keeping it open would result in spiralling repair and operating costs. The building is more than 50 years old and is sadly beyond economic repair, with the council having kept it open beyond its expected design life.
"Once the building is demolished the site will be reinstated with topsoil and seed until a final decision is taken on redevelopment options for the area."
ABC says specialist contractors are now on site to begin the process of demolition of the building.
The removal of asbestos materials is the first stage and that is expected to take up to two weeks.
Once it has been safely completed the demolition of the building will commence.
To view the petition to replace Bockhanger Community Centre, visit www.change.org/p/ashford-borough-council-give-bockhanger-a-new-community-centre