Published: 10:51, 12 February 2021
| Updated: 16:14, 12 February 2021
A huge makeover of a popular town centre attraction will include the addition of a food hall, an outside terrace for al fresco dining and a children's play area.
The council purchased a 105-year lease on the property in November 2019 for £19million but has been unable to find tenants for two of the restaurant units which have stood empty for four years. Another tenant, Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) has closed and will not be returning to the site.
Now the council intends to take the centre in a new direction by converting the two vacant properties to a food hall to provide space for up to eight independent caterers to offer a quality fast-food service.
It also proposes to create an outside terrace eating area, which it anticipates will be even more popular post-Covid.
As a further attraction, the council is to add a children's play area near the stag sculpture between the complex and the River Medway.
The food hall will cost £467,000, the terrace £295,000, and the play area £103,000 with a further £30,000 spent on drawing-up plans.
Tenants of the food hall would be charged a rent of £15,000 per annum, plus 20% of their turnover, for which they would receive insurance and utilities and a ready-to-go unit.
The council's head of commissioning and business improvement, Alexa Kersting-Woods, said there had already been expressions of interest from three "trusted local businesses."
Several councillors on the policy and resources committee expressed some reservations.
Cllr Paul Harper (Lab) said that "£900,000 is a considerable investment" and suggested doing the changes incrementally.
Cllr Malcolm McKay (Lab) asked: "Why do it now? No-one's going to commit to taking on a lease during the pandemic."
Cllr Louise Brice (Con) was most concerned about the impact on traffic.
She said there was already often considerable congestion at the junction of Barker Road and Tonbridge Road, without attracting more customers - and hence more cars - to Lockmeadow.
She wanted to know what traffic mitigation measures there were.
The council's chief executive Alison Broom said she had been in discussions with KCC about improvements but as yet there were no firm plans. Mrs Kersting-Woods suggested one possibility was to make a one-way system around Barker Road and Hart Street.
Cllr Dave Naghi (Lib Dem) urged his colleagues to wait until the council had a firm contract from a tenant for the food hall before "spending vast amounts of money."
Cllr John Perry (Con) described the plans as "all a bit vague."
But other councillors were firmly in support.
Cllr Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard (Con) said: "This is an existing council asset and we need to invest to make it work."
Cllr Martin Cox (Lib Dem) said: "When the pandemic is over, we need to be able to hit the ground running."
Despite their reservations, all the councillors voted in favour of the scheme, except Cllr Brice who abstained.
Any independent food caterers who are interested in taking a pitch in the food hall should contact Mrs Kersting-Woods by email to AlexaKerstingWoods@maidstone.gov.uk