Published: 18:23, 19 June 2019
| Updated: 18:24, 19 June 2019
Plans to save a community centre which looked as though it could be shut forever have taken a significant step forward.
Heather House in Park Wood, owned by Maidstone Borough Council, has been living on borrowed time since November 2017, when officers ordered its permanent closure after serious problems emerged with the building.
Then a campaign by the Park Wood Residents Association and ward councillor Matt Burton (Cons) - which included a petition of around 800 signatures - succeeded in persuading the council to carry out immediate emergency repairs that enabled the hall to be re-opened in April last year, while investigations were carried out into its potential long-term future.
Now, the town hall looks as if it has found a way to save the Bicknor Road facility - which is used for private functions, sports clubs and as a polling station - for the next 15 years at least.
Under the proposals, the nearby Pavilion building, which had previously been leased to the Royal British Legion, would be used as the site for a development of 36 new homes.
The proceeds from this - estimated at £500,000 - could then be put towards the £1.1 million needed for refurbishments and extensions to Heather House, the council's communities, housing and environment committee said this week.
Cllr Burton, who admitted he had initially hoped a third party would come forward to help provide a multi-million-pound upgrade for the facility, said: "We have a very good middle-ground suggestion here for a thorough refurbishment that will secure the future of Heather House, which is what we have sought from the very beginning."
Cllr Jonathan Purle (Cons) added: "The priority is Heather House. If this building is to take place at the Pavilion, it is a means to an end, that we can keep Heather House open."
The council's policy and resources committee will now consider the business case for the proposal, including the release of the extra £600,000 to fund the refurbishment project.