Published: 11:05, 08 October 2020
| Updated: 11:10, 08 October 2020
Plans to regenerate a much-valued community centre have moved a step closer.
Heather House in Park Wood had been threatened with closure by owners Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) after serious problems emerged with the building in Bicknor Road .
But a campaign by the Park Wood Residents Association and ward councillor Matt Burton - which included a petition of around 800 signatures - succeeded in persuading the council to carry out emergency repairs that enabled the hall to be re-opened while investigations were carried out into its potential long-term future.
Initial proposals were drawn up for a development of 36 new homes on the nearby Pavilion Building site, with the proceeds from this - estimated at £500,000 - to be put towards the £1.1 million needed for refurbishments and extensions to the existing Heather House building.
However, following a review of this plan, MBC's Communities Housing and Environment Committee has now opted for a fresh scheme which would see a new community centre constructed on the Heather House site and 12 three-bedroom houses built on the Pavilion Building land.
Financially the new proposal would cut the shortfall in funding which would be met by the council from around £600,000 to approximately £234,000.
Following the committee's decision on Tuesday evening, Cllr Burton says he is cautiously optimistic about the new plans to secure a long-term facility for the community.
"It’s not quite the dream redevelopment," he said. "I wanted the new Heather House to be bigger, bolder and better, as the local community rightly deserves.
"But there is a harsh financial reality here. That being said, what the committee has supported is not perfect, but it is a guarantee that in generations to come Park Wood will have its community hub and will not need to fight an endless campaign to keep Heather House open."
The proposed new community centre would be smaller than the existing Heather House, however the council says new changing room facilities would provide for lost facilities at Pavilion Building to enable the rugby and other sports clubs to continue to use the nearby sports pitches and recreation ground.
Cllr Dan Rose, who also represents the ward, welcomed the move to make an investment in Park Wood and its people.
He said: "Matt and I have already been speaking to local groups and clubs that use Heather House and will be supporting them to keep on meeting during the development period in any way that we can.
"It is vital that local residents are now engaged by the council with regard to these plans, as in the past they could certainly be forgiven for thinking that their views and their community centre have been forgotten. We will ensure that this is no longer the case."
The Bicknor Road facility has previously been used for private functions, sports clubs and as a polling station.
If the plans agreed this week are approved by the council's Policy and Resources Committee in November it is expected a planning application for the development will be submitted in January.