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The Living Cafe and F.J Burger Jewellers brand 'parklets' in Earl Street, Maidstone a 'nightmare'

Business owners in Maidstone say new areas of decking that have appeared in the town centre are a 'nightmare'.

Designed for outdoor seating, the 'parklets' which replace loading and disabled bays, have been installed in Earl Street near the Living Cafe, F.J. Burger Jewellers, Wagamama and Nando's.

The new 'Parklets' appeared on Monday without warning
The new 'Parklets' appeared on Monday without warning

It comes as part of the Active Travel Fund given to Kent County Council (KCC) by the government to help businesses maintain social distancing while encouraging the economy through Covid-19.

The idea is that they will take pressure off indoor seating areas but the owner of The Living Cafe says he has been left confused by it all.

Partick and Marion Letham have been running the independent cafe for more than three years.

Mr Letham said while the idea is nice in principle, it has not been thought through well.

The 57-year-old added: "I'm so excited to have some space out the front but I don't know when I can use it, or how I can use it.

Marion Letham runs The Living Cafe with her husband Patrick
Marion Letham runs The Living Cafe with her husband Patrick

"It's very late notice and I understand that it's a temporary measure that's nice for the street but we've lost the loading bay.

"We now can't deliver to our own shop. Marion and I pick up everything ourselves and we can normally unload our car in 10 minutes, but we can't even access it now.

"I've had to pay to park closer and I'm going to get a wheelbarrow to bring the stuff up from the car park.

"I think there is a lot more information needed before I can even begin to use it."

While the areas are mainly designed for seating, in a letter to businesses KCC said it hopes the parklets will benefit all companies in Earl Street.

Alan Cumming owns F.J Burger Jewellers
Alan Cumming owns F.J Burger Jewellers

But this is something Alan Cumming, owner or F.J. Burger Jewellers says he has no use for despite the fact it surrounds his entire shop.

Mr Cummings who has been running the jewellers for more than 40 years said: "It's of no advantage to us at all. It's covering three premises so how do visitors report where they are on the app and how are we supposed to share it?

"Delivery vans now can't get through so it’s a nightmare in the mornings.

"With so many restaurants and pubs nearby, it's also worrying to potentially have so many people directly outside the business so late."

Mr Cumming said he will take up his concerns with KCC and hopes they will eventually be removed.

It looks like another good idea that hasn't been communicated in a proper way.

Cllr Clive English, a ward councillor for the High Street said he also knew nothing about new bays until today.

He said: "No-one consulted me or my fellow ward councillors and it's quite bizarre.

"It's supposed to benefit local business but it seems as though even they haven't been kept in the loop. It looks like another good idea that hasn't been communicated in a proper way."

A KCC spokesman said: “The scheme in Earl Street was a request from Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) to increase the pedestrianised zone to Pudding Lane from Fremlins Walk.

“The changes have been made to assist with social distancing and to encourage use of local businesses.

“Loading and unloading can be done at any of the bays within Earl Street and disabled parking, as has always been the case, can be on double yellow lines.

“As with all the Emergency Active Travel Fund schemes, this is a temporary measure and adjustments can be made; if there is a need to install a disabled bay to replace an existing parking bay, this will be looked at.”

An MBC spokesperson said: “A trial period to expand Maidstone’s Town Centre pedestrian zone was recently agreed by Local Councillors.

"While we appreciate this may cause some temporary disruption as the scheme is being introduced, MBC will work with residents and businesses where possible to find fair and proportionate solutions.

“Regarding the removal of the one disabled bay on Earl Street, whilst the Council can appreciate this may provide some inconvenience, Town Centre disabled bays are still available on King Street and Wyke Manor Road and a blue badge will allow its’ holder to park in any Town Centre short-stay car park for up to four hours free of charge.”

Pop up cycle lanes which were slammed by road users were also introduced across Kent as part of the Active Travel Fund .

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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