Published: 00:01, 05 March 2019
Gurdwara leaders have defended plans to demolish a former temple and church in order to build apartments.
Gravesend council's regulatory board approved the scheme to flatten the former Sikh temple - built as a church in Clarence Place in 1873 - and build 19 appartments earlier this month.
Despite Gravesend Gurdwara's president's plea for opponents to "move on", opposition to the plan remains, with community groups calling for the current building to be restored and converted into appartments or a mixed community use centre.
Now Ajaib Singh Cheema – President and ‘Mukh Sewadar’ - has issued a further statement hoping to win public approval for the plan.
"Following the decision of Gravesham Council’s Regulatory Board on 6th February, the Gurdwara issued a plea asking everyone to accept the democratic decision that had been taken and move forward," he said. "Subsequently we have followed a lot of discussion on social media and local press about the decision and our intentions.
"Our clear intention is to provide high quality and affordable housing for rent for local people."
Mr Cheema stressed the Gurdwara team would follow "all due processes as required by planning legislation" and would not undertake any work until written planning permission is received.
And he added: "The Management Team and Trustees of the Gurdwara have a duty to obtain ‘best value’ from the Charity’s assets, including the building in Clarence Place. The “offers” and suggestions made in recent months were inconsistent with this duty.
"We reassure local people that the design of the new scheme will be in keeping with the character of the area.
"We are not developing the site to make a profit from selling apartments. The idea of developing lower cost housing for those who need it is completely in line with the ethos of the Gurdwara and the Sikh faith, helping those in need."
Others have pointed out that the current plan does not include any officially classified "affordable housing" - among them Neege Allen Navarria
Gravesend Futures, a collective which promotes good development.
But despite opposing the plan, Mr Navarria insisted he did not view debate over the former building as a "fight".
"We are not against anyone, just seeking to see due process applied and real efforts made to save Gravesham’s limited remaining heritage," he wrote this week. "We are currently trying to broker an appointment with the owners in order to table a serious offer from an experienced developer who has recently re-affirmed his interest to purchase for refurbishment, at a value not far short of the stated asking price during the marketing exercise."
He said his suggested developers could demonstrate a track-record of successful conversion of other heritage buildings into homes, adding: "The fact this company did not receive feedback from the agents following the open day last summer, is further proof the marketing was not undertaken appropriately. This is a key factor that undermines release of a formal approval to demolish the building. We hope the owners will engage to seek a solution mutually acceptable to all parties."