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Public walk out of meeting to discuss replacement for Bockhanger Community Centre in Kennington, Ashford

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A number of angry audience members walked out of a meeting held to discuss plans for a new community centre.

Ashford Borough Council (ABC) staged the hybrid event - held online and streamed for in-person attendees at Spearpoint Pavilion in Kennington - to consult with the community about the future of the site of the now-demolished Bockhanger Community Centre.

The Bockhanger Community Centre was demolished in 2019. Picture: Steve Salter
The Bockhanger Community Centre was demolished in 2019. Picture: Steve Salter

The walk-out by around half those present for the screening was, according to those who left midway through, prompted by a feeling that they were witness to "a smoke and mirrors exercise" by the borough council and Kennington Community Council.

Alan Dean, who was one of those who walked out, said: "The intention was to have as few residents involved as possible - this was reinforced when I was told the face-to-face was to be held at Spearpoint Pavilion which is the smallest meeting space in the community council area.

"With strict Covid precautions in place numbers were reduced to a maximum of 30 residents.

"It became even more apparent that this whole thing was a smoke and mirrors exercise to hide the true intent of both councils to turn the space over to housing."

Plans for a community meeting to discuss the way forward had to be abandoned because of the spread of coronavirus in the spring of 2020.

The site of the former Bockhanger Community Centre in Kennington. Picture: Ashford Borough Council
The site of the former Bockhanger Community Centre in Kennington. Picture: Ashford Borough Council

This latest meeting was the first opportunity for the community to be updated ahead of an ongoing consultation into the future plans.

Participants who logged on to view the meeting online were able to raise questions. One attendee asked if there would be a chance to vote on whether the replacement for the old centre would be a community space or housing with an integrated facility.

Rebecca Smith, housing operations manager at Ashford Borough Council, said in response: "We will consider all the responses and all the feedback that we have had, and use that to inform the decisions and guide how we can best bring this site forward.

"The question is 'is it a community hall or is it houses', there are options on the table but we have confirmed already this afternoon that for housing it would be an affordable housing-led scheme, and there are options around how that's delivered.

"But it would be a community space that's integral within a delivery of affordable housing units."

"I could hear lots of unhappy muttering from many of the residents..."

The former Bockhanger Community Centre, which had stood for more than 50 years and was once home to a nursery and library, was demolished by ABC in April 2019 at a cost of £150,000.

The decision to tear down the building without any plans to replace the facilities drew an angry backlash from people living in the area.

A petition, which was signed by more than 1,700 people, urged the council to commit to building a "bigger and better community centre of the highest quality".

Cllr Diccon Spain (Lab), who was also at the screening in Spearpoint Pavilion on September 29, says he believes a number of assumptions appear to have been made before the consultation has even concluded.

He said: "As the presentation went on I could hear lots of unhappy muttering from many of the residents about what they were seeing and hearing. Suddenly at least half of residents got up and walked out.

Cllr Diccon Spain. Picture: Paul Amos
Cllr Diccon Spain. Picture: Paul Amos

"I think one of the main issues was that there was a lot of focus during the presentation on a lot of other things rather than addressing the residents needs around finding ways of providing a substantial 21st century facility to replace the one that was taken away from them."

A spokesman for ABC said: "This is a major community project and there is a lot of information to absorb and digest, and to reflect this the public consultation will remain open until October 31.

"A report into the proposals for a new community space at Bockhanger, together with the public’s feedback, is due to be presented to the council’s cabinet at the end of November, and members will then set the trajectory for the project going forward.

"The consultation aims to understand what is required by residents, community groups and businesses, and examine what facilities already exist in the area and what they offer."

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

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