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McCarthy Stone retirement complex approved for former Gravesend Rugby club bowling green

Plans to build a four-storey retirement complex have been given the green light – despite being branded “scandalous” by residents.

An application to majorly re-develop the land at Gravesend Rugby Football Club's (GRFC) former bowls club was submitted to the local authority at the end of 2022.

The scheme has been approved. Picture: On Architecture
The scheme has been approved. Picture: On Architecture

It set out to demolish the existing bowls pavilion, in Church Walk, Gravesend, to make way for a four-storey building with 62 "extra care" flats.

The planning statement submitted to Gravesham council said the "extra care" concept enables residents to buy care packages to suit their needs which can change over time and maintain independence.

According to the document, the complex will have 33 one-bedroom and 29 two-bedroom units with a bathroom and kitchen for people over the age of 70.

Communal areas will include a lounge, reception, office, bistro and kitchen, laundry, function space, mobility store and a garden.

It also included proposals to create new vehicles and emergency access from Ellerslie, 32 parking spaces including spaces for disabled users, staff and an ambulance, and hiring 24-hour on-site staff.

The bowling green where the compex will be built. Picture: Google Maps
The bowling green where the compex will be built. Picture: Google Maps

Now, more than a year later, the scheme by retirement housing firm McCarthy Stone has been approved by council officers after it received more than 30 letters of support.

Divisional managing director at the firm's London and South East division, Alex Stark, said: McCarthy Stone’s approved plans will significantly improve local housing choice for older homeowners who wish to retain their independence in their own home, with access to tailored care and support as well as a warm, fun, and caring community of friendly neighbours to encourage a happier and healthier later life.

“We look forward to bringing this development forward as soon as possible.

“The approved plans will also help to address needs in the wider housing market, by freeing up homes further down the chain for families and first-time buyers.

The developers will also be providing contributions to improve the rugby club
The developers will also be providing contributions to improve the rugby club

“Research shows that every McCarthy Stone apartment sold generates at least two moves further down the housing chain.

“This means the scheme in Gravesend would likely free up 124 homes for local people at differing stages of the housing ladder.

“There is a real need for specialist retirement accommodation in Gravesend, and this proposal will go some way to addressing that, whilst at the same time releasing existing family homes onto the market and relieving the pressure of local green belt release.”

Those in favour of the scheme praised it for providing much needed shelter housing and money to improve other sports meaning it would benefit the whole community.

However, six objections were received over fears of increased traffic in an already congested area, loss of green spaces and previously it was slammed by residents who branded it “scandalous” and “horrific”.

Michael Charles objected to the plans
Michael Charles objected to the plans

Speaking to KentOnline last year, former member of GRFC bowls club Michael Charles said: "I said I would always oppose it because I thought it was scandalous.

"While there may be a need for specialist retirement accommodation, I can see no justification for building it on one of the few green spaces we have left in the town.

"I am not saying it should be a bowls club but it could be used for another sport or as a green space.

"We know that green spaces are good for our health and well-being and yet we seem to be hell-bent on building over every last blade of grass."

The bowling club was closed in 2020 and the land has not been used since
The bowling club was closed in 2020 and the land has not been used since

Sports England was also originally opposed to the idea as it would result in the “loss of playing field”.

Yet its objection was wihtdrawn after the developer offered to contribute £80,000 to be used for the improvement of exisiting bowls facility in the borough.

The rugby club took the decision to shut the bowling green in 2020 following discussions with the landowners over financial struggles.

It caused a dispute between members who, at the time, said they felt "stabbed in the back" and disappointed over the way they had been treated.

It is a four-storey building with 62-bedrooms. Picture: On Architecture
It is a four-storey building with 62-bedrooms. Picture: On Architecture

According to the retirement firm, the sale will allow the rugby club to invest money into new floodlighting, drainage and levelling the pitches to increase the number of matches played.

Concerns were raised about the impact of the development on the existing pitches but council officers confirmed the applicants will not start work that would stop players accessing them before they are re-orientated.

In their decision report, officers added that “amount of playing fields for rugby and cricket remains the same”.

They concluded: “The proposed care home will provide much needed accommodation for the elderly, it is designed to complement the surrounding area and respect the nearby heritage.

“The loss of the bowls club has been mitigated against and no objections are raised with regard to amenity, parking or highways safety.”

The plans have been approved subject to conditions and a signed section 106 agreement.

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