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Plans for new community centre to replace Heather House in Park Wood, Maidstone criticised by councillors


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Plans to build a new community centre have been criticised by councillors who say its emphasis appears to be on sport rather than people who live in the area.

Heather House in Park Wood, Maidstone, is due to be demolished and replaced by a new community centre after serious concerns were raised about the building in Bicknor Road.

Heather House was constructed in the 1960's (54666394)
Heather House was constructed in the 1960's (54666394)

Plans for the new centre include a smaller main hall than the original, a bar and lounge area and four changing rooms.

A further 12 three-bedroom houses will also be built where the Pavilion stands.

Currently the new centre is scheduled to open in March 2024.

However praise for the centre was in short supply at a community, housing and environment committee meeting, where Maidstone councillors criticised the new design for its addition of a bar and the amount of space dedicated to sport.

Cllr Denise Joy (Maidstone Group) summarised her feelings as “disappointed”.

Councillor Joy was not pleased with the plans (54666436)
Councillor Joy was not pleased with the plans (54666436)

She said: “I’m a very community minded councillor, so one of the things I was looking for was what was happening to the community centre.

“If you look at the size of the hall and then the changing rooms, I was disappointed to see so much emphasis had gone on the changing rooms.

“Since 2018 we made it clear it was a community centre first and although it was costly I’m just so disappointed I’m looking at this.

“One of the things that jumped out at me was the bar. Now believe it or not I like a G&T but I thought we had said we didn’t think a bar was necessary.

“I read this and think it’s for sports, because of rugby and I’ve got nothing against it, but are we thinking of our community?

The centre was previously the home of Maidstone Amateur Boxing Club (54666488)
The centre was previously the home of Maidstone Amateur Boxing Club (54666488)

“I’ve never been in a community centre where they’ve got a bar. They’ve got a hatch or similar, working men’s clubs have bars but not a community hall.”

Cllr Derek Mortimer (Lib Dem) asked whether there would be a clash between residents and the Weavering Warriors Rugby Club who have a lease at the Pavilion building.

He said: “Going back to 2018 we had a tour of the building. I fully support the rugby club and any facility that will help them.

“But when we voted for this we were promoting a community centre for Park Wood and beyond.”

Cllr Lewis McKenna (Con) also had reservations. He said: “I’ve sat on a couple of consultations with the rugby club and I have to agree with my councillors, this feels like we’ve designed it for them.

Councillor Derek Mortimer believes the centre should serve the community first (54666858)
Councillor Derek Mortimer believes the centre should serve the community first (54666858)

“The bar wasn’t in there when we had the conversation, if there was no bar they weren’t interested. They were as blunt as that.

“It feels like we’ve designed it for the rugby club and the community hall is an after thought."

Planning officers admitted there were a lot of changing rooms but this was down to the two sports fields which could hold four teams on a busy day.

They also claimed bars were common in many community centres and it would help with taking back costs.

However temporary chair of the committee, Cllr Simon Webb (Con), reiterated the councillors' concerns.

Councillor Simon Webb believed the number of changing rooms were excessive for community use (54667044)
Councillor Simon Webb believed the number of changing rooms were excessive for community use (54667044)

“I can understand what you are saying about football and rugby," he said.

“But what I can’t understand is why there are four changing rooms. I think that is excessive for community use, because they’re not being used by the community, they're being used by visiting teams.”

In a vote councillors unanimously asked planning officers to reconsider plans for the centre.

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