Published: 12:36, 30 July 2020
| Updated: 12:39, 30 July 2020
A council that stepped-up to fund long overdue upgrades to a bus station despite not actually owning it, is defending its decision saying it feels it's the council's job to support what has been a 'long standing issue' for the town.
New designs show a £1.1m facelift is on the cards for Maidstone's bus station, which runs underneath The Mall and alongside Sainsbury's.
Despite being owned by Capital and Regional, the company which runs The Mall, and primarily used by bus operator Arriva, the majority of the bill is being paid for by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC).
Both Arriva and Capital and Regional, along with Kent County Council, will contribute £30,000 towards the refurbishment plans which are currently out for public consultation.
The head of regeneration and economic development at MBC says although the council does not own the station, it feels it is its duty to pay for improvements that will benefit the whole town.
John Foster added: "It’s certainly a collective effort by all parties but it has been in our Integrated Transport Strategy, our Local Plan, and our corporate plan to invest and improve the bus station and it has been a long standing issue.
"It doesn't reflect well on the County Town, it's of an age, and we want to improve that as we do the whole of the town. We want it to be a vibrant place and that’s the job of the council in my mind and that's why we’re putting our money into this."
Capital and Regional says it has taken more than just these costs into consideration.
It added: "We are delighted to be working with the council and Arriva in delivering an upgraded bus station to the town centre. These proposals have been carefully considered to be the most cost effective and deliverable to the benefit of the whole town centre and take into account not just capital outlay but on-going maintenance and running costs which have been agreed by all parties concerned."
Upgrades to the 1970s structure will be purely cosmetic. Artists impressions show it will prioritise improvements to lighting, signage and access making it more welcoming.
Discussions about development first started in 2007 when a new transport hub linking King Street and Romney Place became a council aspiration.
Then in 2014 there were talks about large scale development moving the station to Sainsbury's in a huge infrastructure overhaul.
But since then, a number of changes have been made.
Mr Foster explains: "With the move to Sainsbury's, that was a huge £100m plus scheme and there was a great appetite for that at the time but I believe there was a significant viability gap.
"But the owners still wanted to invest which is why they spent £6m in updating The Mall in 2016 with all the works inside the centre which I think are great.
"Now we are trying to focus on things that work for the present and some of the scope has changed overtime which is why we have got this budget.
"We tried to get external funding from the local growth grant, which is money that comes from the government through to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership and then through to our Kent and Medway Economic Partnership.
"It's quite a competitive process and a lot of projects that get submitted far exceed the available money so only certain projects can be prioritised.
"Unfortunately on this occasion we were not successful so there isn't much external funding available so it came down to ‘do we want this to happen or not?’ In this case we do, so let's find a way to get on and do it.
"The designs were approved by the regeneration and leisure committee and the members were certainly very enthusiastic about it. It’s much brighter, it's much more visible in terms of being able to see the buses coming, the new tiling and the lighting on the ceiling is going to make it much fresher and cleaner and a much more pleasant place to catch a bus. We hope that will be reflected in the public consultation."
Residents are encouraged to share their views in the online survey which is available now.
Display boards and a comment box will be made available in The Mall Shopping Centre from August 10.