Published: 00:00, 20 January 2017
| Updated: 13:13, 20 January 2017
Plans to transform one of Dartford’s most historic buildings into a major town centre landmark have gone on show.
Dartford council is keen to spend £5 million to redevelop events venue Acacia Hall and better integrate its centrepiece structure – Mansion House – with neighbouring Central Park.
Before a planning application is submitted, though, the council is keen to find out what locals make of the proposals and held a public exhibition to showcase the concepts at Dartford Museum.
Satellite maps revealed the extent of the project, which will see several disused facilities, such as a sports hall and ballroom demolished, and a new grand entrance to Mansion House installed.
The interior of the building will be refurbished, as will Coach House and Building D, that dates back to the early 19th century.
Vehicle access will be improved, more than 100 extra car park spaces will be installed in place of unused tennis courts and an old playground, and ecological improvements to the surrounding area are also in the pipeline.
For project manager Tony Phillips, who has worked on other developments across Dartford, including the Central Park cafe and the Darent Valley Path, it is a great opportunity to make the most of the site’s wasted potential.
He said: “Everything is out of use at the moment.
“It was used as a leisure facility for weddings and all the rest of it, but we tried to market the site several times and nobody was that interested.
“Now we’re beginning to draw a much nicer package.
“We’re reforming that space around the Mansion House and bringing back the relationship between the Coach House and the Mansion House, which was totally lost.
“All you can see of Mansion House from Market Street at the moment is the roof, so the new entrance will bring that back into view. I think it will be a massive boost to the town economically when it comes back.”
Several people visited the museum on Tuesday and Wednesday for their first look at the plans, and the thumbs-up was universally positive.
John Hall, 76, of New Barn, but who lived in Havelock Road, Dartford for 46 years, said he hoped the work would be finished in good time.
“It’s a waste round there with those horrible buildings and there’s never been good access to it anyway, so I think it’s going to be great,” he said.
“There are some lovely buildings and I think a lot of people who used the temporary library there must have seen them probably for the first time.
“As long as it’s not like the Lowfield Street development and takes that sort of time it’ll be OK.”
Acacia Hall was most recently used as a makeshift replacement for Dartford library as it underwent its own extensive refurbishment thanks to £650,000 from Kent County Council.
With the library and Acacia Hall being treated to major funding, plus plans for hundreds of modern apartments and small shops in Lowfield Street to be built by 2019, there is plenty of development going on around Central Park.
Mary Osborn, 77, of Brent Lane, said: “Keeping the heritage is nice. I would hope it increases footfall in the town.
“I walk through the park and used to wonder why it was looking in decay, but it’ll be fantastic when it’s done. I can’t wait. I walk through there and think what a shame, this beautiful building is just being left like this.”
Gareth Humphreys, 66, of Great Queen Street, added: “Mansion House is just hidden away.
“There’s not much around it that would be missed if it were to be knocked down.
“It [the plan] looks good. Even if you’re just walking passed it on the way town you’ll have something nice to look at now.”
The planning application for Acacia Hall should be submitted in April and approval would mean work could begin in the summer, with demolition completed by Christmas.
March 2018 is the prospective opening date, with additional ecological improvements to the surrounding area to follow in the summer of that year.
If you missed them, the proposals will again be on display at the museum in Market Street next Thursday, January 26, from 10am until 4pm.