Published: 06:00, 26 August 2019
A Miller & Carter steakhouse catering for 170 diners is to open on the site of a former social club after plans were finally approved.
The restaurant will be built on scrubland off Canterbury Road in Kennington between the Holiday Inn hotel and M20.
Construction is set to begin in January after Ashford Borough Council waved through the scheme earlier this month - 20 months after the planning application was submitted.
Now bosses at the Mitchells and Butlers company - who already operate Harvester and Toby Carvery restaurants alongside their Miller & Carter steakhouses - hope to open the restaurant next summer.
It is set to be open seven days a week between 8am and 12.30am, employing between 50 and 60 staff on the site of the former Houchin sports and social club.
Property developer Richard Gillam, who bought the scrubland four years ago and applied for the planning permission, says he is delighted the scheme can now go ahead.
“We made the application in January 2018, so it’s been the best part of 20 months,” he said.
“The planning officer who was about to consent it left the council, which delayed it. The delay was unnecessary, but we have got there in the end.
“We could be ready to start construction in November or December, but we will go for January and plan to open in summer 2020 - Miller & Carter is very keen to open it.”
Last year, the discovery of protected dormice and slow worms had threatened to stop the development, but Kent County Council’s ecological advice service said a new mitigation strategy submitted by the applicant was “robust” and the authority did not object to it.
Mr Gillam, who lives in Shoreham-by-Sea, says he has built a new home for the slow worms and planted a hedge which it is hoped will lead the dormice from their current home to a new habitat away from the construction site.
When built, the restaurant will feature a 66-space car park, a bar, and seating for 172 diners.
The two-storey building, which will feature toilets and staff facilities above the restaurant, will be built at a slight angle facing traffic travelling towards the town centre from Kennington.
On Wednesday, work began on a new entrance which will be installed off the A28.
Mr Gillam, who does not own the former playing field behind the plot, had previously spoken to Starbucks and Greggs about opening a site next to the steakhouse, but is concentrating on getting the restaurant built first instead.
Mitchells and Butlers already operates about 1,700 restaurants and pubs across the country, and is one of the largest employers in the UK with more than 44,000 staff on its books.
Its steak is aged on the bone for a minimum of seven days, then matured for a further 21.
The company has a number of steakhouses across the country, including in Sheffield, Edinburgh and Exeter.
Further down the road, work to transform a derelict hotel into a seafood restaurant and country pub is well underway after the project was given the green light by council officers.
The Croft Hotel in Kennington is being turned into the Stubbs Restaurant, which will specialise in raw seafood and house a cosy country pub.
The site is set to open in autumn 2020 after renowned restaurateurs Alex and Helen Bensley revealed plans to transform the Canterbury Road spot earlier this year.
The husband-and-wife duo - who have a track record of turning failing pubs into successful eateries - sold five of their restaurants, including The Old Mill not far from The Croft, to Shepherd Neame for £11.9 million in 2016.
They now plan to remodel the existing building into a dog-friendly pub with open log fires, local ales and beers and a cellar of wines after the council approved the planning application in June.
The £4 million project - which also includes the sale price of £1.8m - will see an extension constructed to make room for a new seafood restaurant, large kitchen, oyster and shellfish bar and dining room.
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.
It will cater for 175 diners, with 125 in the main restaurant area and 50 in the bar area.
"We have got planning permission - so now it's full steam ahead," Mr Bensley said. "We have got to meet 28 conditions to meet but the council has been unbelievably supportive.
"So far we have renovated the existing building from the basement - the building was virtually derelict and now it is in prime condition.
"The rafters have been repaired and all the windows have been replaced.
"It's a complex and ambitious project but I believe in it enough to spend £4 million on it.
"It will be 'on the next level' for Ashford..." Mr Bensley
"I think Ashford needs it."
Mr Bensley plans to appoint 75 new staff members, with most of the positions already filled, including a head chef, manager and wine waiter.
The menu will be based around fresh local fish, shellfish and farm produce and meat from the Marchants of Bethersden, as well as vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Mr Bensley, who previously told KentOnline how his vision is to cater for the "more affluent, business and mature market", added: "It will be a high quality pub with a good wine cellar and a seafood restaurant serving raw fish.
"The Kennington area is quite affluent, there's a lot of retired people and business folk, so I am quite confident it will work.
"It will be 'on the next level' for Ashford."
Stubbs Restaurant will open from 11am to 11pm seven days a week.
Last January, 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.
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.