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Planners push forward monumental Gravesend developments despite design fears

Councillors have voted to push forward with major building developments that could have a monumental impact on Gravesham, despite significant public concerns.

Gravesham council's planning committee met on Wednesday night to discuss plans which would bring a new sports centre to Northfleet and almost 600 new homes to Gravesend.

An artist's impression shows redevelopment of the Horn Yard and Market Square areas
An artist's impression shows redevelopment of the Horn Yard and Market Square areas

Plans for The Charter, which would bring 242 homes in blocks of flats on the current Horn Yard and Market Square car parks, proved arguably the most contentious - with fears raised that the flats would provide poor quality development and have a negative impact on the town.

Peter Langly-Smith of developers Reef said the Charter was a "unique and sustainable development" that would contribute to the overall regeneration of Gravesend, but that vision was shot down by public speakers.

Daniel Curran told the meeting the the buildings were out of proportion, adding that "while modern blocks of units have their place, they should not be the focus of Gravesend's old town", and that they "undermined what is billed as a heritage quarter."

Fears were also raised the blocks would overshadow nearby homes, while another speaker, introduced to the meeting as Martin, went as far to say the plans were "wicked", as they offered a "desperately low standard of accommodation" with little daylight and no outdoor space.

"This is not good enough in this post-Covid world," he added.

But while those fears met with some sympathy, councillors offered a generally more optimistic view. Councillor Conrad Broadley said the height of the buildings was not necessarily a negative point, as they would offer variety to the development, while Cllr Bob Lane said anti-social behaviour associated with the existing car parks would be eliminated, and that Heritage England had offered a positive view on the plans.

New homes are a key part of regeneration in Gravesend
New homes are a key part of regeneration in Gravesend

Cllr Steve Thompson noted the developer's point that current views of the river from the site were a modern aspect of the town, which in the past had a busy, built-up riverside area.

"That makes me think we're getting hung up over protecting a heritage that isn't a heritage," he added.

The planning committee voted to agree the recommendation - to delegate the decision to the council's development manager subject to conditions and the completion of a 106 agreement.

There were also concerns raised about plans for 227 flats at Clifton Slipways, which would bring a new 23 storey tower-block and the redevelopment of the existing pier.

A CGI image of the proposed development for Clifton Slipways, in Gravesend
A CGI image of the proposed development for Clifton Slipways, in Gravesend

Councillors sought reassurance from developers Quinn Estates over the quality of a tower which would dominate the skyline, but remained positive about its potential, and about the possibility of encouraging business on the redeveloped pier.

Cllr Steve Thompson even suggested an extra storey could be added to provide a viewing platform and bar or restaurant, which might make the tower a destination for visitors.

Developers agreed to consider the possibility, and were asked to look further into the idea of installing a floating pier to enable access from the river.

Cllr Broadley bemoaned the fact this idea hadn't been explored more fully, and suggested a historic ship could also be moored at the pier.

How the pier would look like in the planned Clifton Slipways development
How the pier would look like in the planned Clifton Slipways development

But councillors again voted in favour of the recommendation to delegate the decision to the council's development manager subject to conditions and the completion of a 106 agreement.

Plans for the the new sports centre on the former Fleet Leisure and Sports Club in Nelson Road, Northfleet, proved less controversial, but there were significant concerns raised about potential noise emanating from the site.

Nearby home owner Ruth told the meeting that the noise from the pitches, especially bad language from supporters, had previously had a negative impact, and that noise from the clubhouse often travelled over the fields during late night events.

The new clubhouse planned at the former Fleet Leisure site
The new clubhouse planned at the former Fleet Leisure site

It was noted that the new scheme included noise barriers, but councillors suggested that a code of conduct be drawn up and that further measures to reduce noise be investigated.

The meeting then voted unanimously in favour to grant permission for the plans.

Plans for 115 new flats at M-Block in Bath Street, the former Gravesend and North Kent Hospital maternity ward, which has not been in use since 2006, also moved a step forward.

The development, which some have called to be named in honour of Gravesham nurse Ursilla Sullivan, would include an 11-storey side extension and a new building, dubbed L-Block, ranging from three to six storeys.

An artist's impression shows the proposed L-Block in the foreground, with the M-Block tower to the rear
An artist's impression shows the proposed L-Block in the foreground, with the M-Block tower to the rear

Councillors agreed the recommendation again to delegate a decision to grant permission to the council's development manager, subject to conditions and the completion of a 106 agreement.

A smaller application, to use two outbuildings in a garden in Wrotham Road as residential dwellings, was turned down.

Speaking after the meeting, Gravesham council's leader Cllr John Burden (Lab) said: “This is an historic moment for the borough.

“As we come out of the Covid-19 crisis the fact that three major developments are going ahead in Gravesend is an indication of the confidence investors have in the borough as a whole.

“These three schemes on brown field sites in the urban part of the borough also make a significant contribution to meeting our government-set housing target – a target we have to meet or risk having local control over planning wrested from our grip. No easy task when such a large percentage of Gravesham falls within the Green Belt.

“As a council we have a long-standing and sometimes frustrating ambition to lead the regeneration of the town centre.

“There have been false dawns. There has been a planning permission in place for the redevelopment of the area to the east of the High Street for a number of years, which The Charter supersedes and which is, in my opinion, far superior.

“The council has been working with Reef Group on The Charter for some considerable time. They will be building out this new scheme on behalf of our commercial trading company, Rosherville Property Development. That partnership will see this latest development built, and work will be starting on site imminently.

“Of course redevelopment is never going to be universally popular, but in my experience the loudest voices are those opposed. Those in favour or indifferent to proposals rarely speak out.

“What we do hear are people bemoaning what they call ‘the state of the town’. Doing nothing changes nothing. If our town is to thrive and grow in this post Covid world, we need a strong daytime and night time economy.

“People living in the town centre will shop and socialise in the town centre, driving up footfall and supporting our local traders.

“Together with Reef Group we will now turn our attention to the St George’s phase II development to the west of the High Street. This is an exciting commercial and leisure development that will breathe new life into the town centre and ensure it thrives during the day and into the evening and night.

“These are exciting developments for Gravesham and we should look to the future with confidence.”

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