Published: 12:00, 09 December 2016
An ageing town-centre venue will be treated to a multimillion-pound renovation project.
Much of Dartford’s Acacia Hall is run down and out of use, with its ballroom, marquee, squash courts, fitness suite and sports hall among the features to be closed over the years.
It was recently used as a temporary home for the town’s library services while the main building in Central Park was refurbished, but attempts to market the site to prospective leisure and hospitality firms have failed.
Dartford council’s cabinet last night backed plans to transform it in a bid to attract more interest, with improvements that could rack up a bill of around £5 million.
Since buying the site from pharmaceutical firm Wellcome in 2005, the council has already built an outdoor theatre in place of an old bowls green and created a link between nearby Darenth Road and Central Park, but the new proposals are far more extensive.
They include demolishing the ballroom, squash court, boiler house and grounds maintenance room, in addition to a garage, staff facilities and an old playground.
This would allow Mansion House, the centrepiece of the site and a Grade II listed building, alongside Coach House, to be “reset into a high-quality landscape”.
Mansion House itself would remain “essentially unchanged” although there would be some internal refurbishment. The inside of Coach House, which is only used at weekends as football changing facilities, would also receive some work.
Another building to be retained is the so-called Building D, which dates back to the early 19th century.
It is leased by the Dartford and District Archaeological Group and the building’s historic exterior would be restored.
Dartford council leader Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) said: “It’s the last part of the jigsaw for what has been a really successful project to improve Central Park.
“Given the work we have done in Central Park, I would hope people will trust us to deliver a fantastic public facility.
“I think people do see the improvements in the park and appreciate them and are very complimentary.”
Cllr Kite acknowledged that locals may be sad to see some of the buildings go, notably the ballroom, but was confident the site had the potential for a very bright future.
Alterations to the existing car park are also proposed, bumping up the number of spaces from 220 to 360 by extending the upper car park through the unused tennis courts and old playground.
Vehicle access to the site would also be changed, with the main bridge over the east river channel to be removed in favour of new traffic and pedestrian routes.
“Given the work we have done in Central Park, I would hope people will trust us to deliver a fantastic public facility" Cllr Jeremy Kite
A new Fastrack exit route on to Darenth Road is also a possibility, which would “ease the burden on the one-way system through Market Street and Lowfield Street”, which are often congested.
The plans will be discussed in more detail at tonight’s meeting, although several aspects of the project are dependent on approval from the likes of Kent County Council and the Environment Agency. There will also be a public consultation.
Dartford council also acknowledge that the sheer cost of the project could be an obstacle, with the council’s capital programme budget standing at £1.41 million for 2016/17 and £1.5 million for 2017/18.
However, it is hoped that work on the project will begin in June, to be completed in March 2018.
Further ecological improvements to the surrounding area, focused on the River Darent, could commence in the summer of 2018.
More by this authorTom Acres