Published: 06:00, 30 July 2021
| Updated: 15:00, 30 July 2021
A council has taken the first step towards clearing up one of a town's biggest eyesores – the burnt husk of a floating restaurant.
The blaze, that is said to have been started by a faulty iPad that had been left charging, took seven fire crews to bring under control and resulted in the nearby A229 Bishops Way being closed to traffic for several hours because of the heavy drifting smoke.
The boat, a converted French motor-sailing barge, was seriously damaged and has never re-opened, nor been repaired.
In March this year, the owner, James Bailey, announced that his insurance company had finally settled his claim from the fire damage and said it was his intention to restore the restaurant.
When the business was launched in 2009, it was known simply as The Barge. It changed names in 2013 after the first owners went into liquidation.
The business had previously been granted permission by the borough council to extend onto the riverbank with an enclosed terrace, which is currently surrounded by blue hoardings.
Now the council has initiated enforcement action against the owners after months of the burnt-out shell resting on the river bank.
A spokesman said: "Maidstone Borough Council is the landowner and landlord of the area leased to the owners of the Embankments Restaurant where a pergola and hoarding from the burnt out-barge remains.
"The council, as Local Planning Authority, has served an Enforcement Notice on the owners of the barge and pergola requiring that these be removed from the site as it is considered that a breach of planning has occurred.
"The owner has until August 16 August to appeal."
Separately the borough has also started legal proceedings that will require the removal of the boat from the embankment.
Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem), whose High Street Ward covers the river frontage, said: "It's a welcome move."
He said: "The borough council is about to consult the public on the future of Archbishop's Palace and the Carriage Museum. It would be ridiculous to do that and leave such an eyesore in place behind them.
"Also it is spoiling the view from Lockmeadow where the council is currently carrying out a major upgrade to the leisure centre to encourage more visitors."
Contractors have already begun work at the Lockmeadow Centre on the opposite side of the river to the floating restaurant.
The council is spending £900,000 creating a giant food hall at the centre which will accommodate eight individual independent catering units, as well extending the outdoor eating terrace and building a children's forest play area.
The food hall may open as early as October 14.
In addition the council decided this month to embark on a public consultation to decide on the future of the Archbishop's Palace.
The Grade 1 medieval building has been owned by the borough council since 1904, but since November 2005 it has been let to KCC for use as a Register Office and Coroner's Court.
KCC's lease has already expired and the county council has announced its intention to quit the building in September next year when it will revert to the borough council.
While councillors have expressed a desire to emphasise the heritage of the area, with the Palace linking in with All Saints Church and the Carriage Museum, there is also a concern to find a use that will generate an income, since maintenance of the building is estimated to cost £200,000 a year.
The council will shortly ask the public to consider possible options for the building that include using it as offices, as a training and conference centre, as a boutique hotel, or for cultural uses, such as for weddings and receptions and as an art gallery.
The public will also be invited to submit their own ideas, but the borough is aware that the presence of the burnt-out restaurant at the rear of the palace will deter potential development partners.
Barge owner James Bailey has not responded to a request for comment.