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Plans to redevelop Ashford's Mecca Bingo and Vicarage Lane car park revealed

By Charlie Harman

Bold plans to turn a former Mecca Bingo building and town centre car park into a multi-million pound leisure complex have been revealed.

Ashford Borough Council hopes to partially demolish the ex-Odeon, flattening the rear of the property and knocking through the former entrance in the Lower High Street to make a pedestrian route leading to a new public square on the car park.

The space - nicknamed Odeon Square - is set to feature a large outdoor cinema screen surrounded by cafes and bars.

Plans for Ashford town centre redevelopment revealed

A micro brewery and pizzeria are planned alongside a taco bar and delicatessen, as well as new studios.

Bosses say bulldozing the rear of the landmark 1930s building will open up views of St Mary's Church.

Despite looking to knock through the former cinema entrance, chiefs plan to retain most of the frontage, creating an indoor performance space in the former ballroom on the first floor above the former foyer.

The former Mecca Bingo building frontage is to be retained, but the entrance will be knocked through
The former Mecca Bingo building frontage is to be retained, but the entrance will be knocked through

A residential development also forms part of the scheme, with houses and flats proposed for the rest of the Vicarage Lane car park.

In the council's 'emerging plan', 61 homes are proposed with 40 car parking spaces.

Workshops are also proposed in the scheme, which will also see a new footpath put in across the Vicarage Field open space.

A view of the development, with the cinema screen to the right and rear of Mecca Bingo in the middle
A view of the development, with the cinema screen to the right and rear of Mecca Bingo in the middle

Bosses say the loss of parking spaces in Vicarage Lane car park will be offset by plans to build a multi-storey car park behind the bowling alley in Station Road.

For months, campaigners have called on the council to convert the Mecca building into a theatre, with a petition gaining thousands of signatures.

Council leader Gerry Clarkson says the council is aware of calls for a theatre, but the conversion proposal is too costly.

How the site will look
How the site will look

The authority paid £1.8m for Mecca Bingo when it bought the site.

Cllr Clarkson said: "The former Mecca/Odeon site and the adjacent Vicarage Lane car park presents a unique opportunity to drive forward our objectives for the town centre, which could bring more people into the high street and provide better facilities for residents.

"The council is aware of the interest many local people have expressed in having a theatre, however the potential cost of converting this building added to the fact that former cinemas do not tend to make good theatres, has led us to look at other potential uses for this space.

A view from the bowling alley in Station Road looking across the Vicarage Field and towards the development
A view from the bowling alley in Station Road looking across the Vicarage Field and towards the development
Vicarage Lane car park
Vicarage Lane car park
How the development looks with the Mecca Bingo frontage in the foreground
How the development looks with the Mecca Bingo frontage in the foreground

"The council believes the proposed development could help to rejuvenate the town centre, enhance our cultural offer, create employment opportunities and attract inward investment for the benefit of residents.”

The plan - drawn up by Ash Sakula Architects - is set to be discussed at the council's cabinet meeting next month.

A planning application is yet to be submitted, but the authority is hosting an exhibition in the Ashford Gateway building in Church Road until Friday, March 1.

For more information, visit www.ashford.gov.uk/mecca

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