Published: 06:00, 25 November 2019
Plans for a Miller & Carter steakhouse on the site of a former social club have been thrown into doubt after the land was put up for sale.
The £4m restaurant was set to be built on scrubland off Canterbury Road in Kennington, Ashford, between the Holiday Inn hotel and M20.
Ashford Borough Council (ABC) approved the scheme in August, but land owner Richard Gillam, 73, has now put the 1.85-acre site on the market for £500,000 after becoming unable to agree a new deal for the land with Mitchells & Butlers, which runs the steakhouse chain.
Both parties had previously signed an agreement, but that deal has expired and Mr Gillam says he is now looking at alternatives.
One option includes a car showroom, while another could see 30 two-bedroom flats and 45 parking spaces built on the scrubland, which was previously home to the Houchin sports and social club.
Mr Gillam, who lives in Shoreham-by-Sea, says he is assessing "all options".
"My gut feeling is they [Mitchells & Butlers] won't do it," he said.
"I was giving them a cheap deal on the basis they would come in on an unconditional basis and take on the infrastructure works.
"But they have now put lots of conditions in that I won't accept.
"Luckily, I can just wait until someone makes me the offer I want. I am talking to a few other people."
Plans for the steakhouse first surfaced in February last year when Mr Gillam submitted his plans to ABC.
The scheme hit a stumbling block when protected slow worms and dormice were discovered on the land, but the project was given the green light in August - 20 months after it was lodged.
In September, contractors cleared a large chunk of the site to make space for an entrance off Canterbury Road, with a view to starting construction after Christmas.
But for sale boards appeared at the prominent site last week and the land is now being advertised by Stafford Perkins.
"I have owned the site for six years and I want to walk away from it," Mr Gillam added.
"I've put it on the market because there is always somebody out there who I haven't thought about which might provide greater financial returns.
"Mitchells & Butlers wants a seven-metre wide access road, for example, for its deliveries.
"But if I did 30 two-bedroom apartments, I could bring it down to five metres.
"If Mitchells & Butlers wants to do it, it will have to get its chequebook out."
A spokeswoman for the restaurant chain says the company "remains committed" to opening a steakhouse in Ashford and "is continuing to explore all available opportunities".
When asked specifically whether the company is still planning to open in Canterbury Road, the spokeswoman did not respond.
The steakhouse was set to be open seven days a week between 8am and 12.30am, employing between 50 and 60 staff.
The Miller & Carter chain - which is part of the Harvester and Toby Carvey group - specialises in serving up 30-day aged beef.
'If Mitchells & Butlers wants to do it, it will have to get its chequebook out...' - Richard Gillam
Its menus vary by restaurant, but focus on steak - including ribeye, fillet, sirloin and chateaubriand - as well as burgers, salads, and fish dishes.
The restaurant was set to open in summer next year, featuring a 66-space car park, a bar, and seating for 172 diners.
The two-storey building, which was due to have toilets and staff facilities above the restaurant, would have been built at a slight angle facing traffic travelling towards the town centre from Kennington.
Mr Gillam had previously explored various ideas for the site, including plans to build an international beach volleyball stadium.
The IMO Car Wash company, Vets4Pets, and a petrol station operator had all shown interest in the past, as well as the popular Starbucks coffee chain.
Read more: All the latest news from Ashford