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Councillors' frustration over consultation into future of Heather House in Park Wood, Maidstone

Councillors have expressed frustration after thousands of people were denied the opportunity to have their say on the future of a community hall.

Heather House in Bicknor Road, Park Wood, which is 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 (Con) - 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.

From left, John Barned, Matt Burton, Gary Cooke and Marion Ring outside Heather House
From left, John Barned, Matt Burton, Gary Cooke and Marion Ring outside Heather House

More recently, the council sent out a survey via post to the 3,566 households in Park Wood ward asking for views on the Bicknor Road facility, which is used for private functions, sports clubs and as a polling station.

A total of 320 responses were received, but only 7% of households said they visit Heather House with 43% admitting they hadn't been before, many of whom adding that they'd never heard of it.

However, Cllr Burton told a meeting of the council's communities, housing and environment committee the consultation was flawed by only including those living in the Park Wood ward.

"As much as we in this chamber may crave the clarity of analysing our electorate by ward, division, constituency, these arbitrary boundaries do not translate into the way real people live their lives," he said.

"I don't start or stop caring about a community facility because of my postcode.

"Many residents, I'm sure, in Shepway, Senacre, Mangravet and far beyond, will have a great affinity for this beloved place, and would have appreciated the opportunity to also make their feelings known to this committee."

Heather House (4838020)
Heather House (4838020)

Cllr Burton also pointed out that more people who responded said they felt Heather House was 'important' or 'very important' than those who described it as 'unimportant', 'not important at all' or 'neither important nor unimportant'.

Arguments were also made that a door-to-door survey would have produced more substantial results, though council officers said there were not sufficient resources to carry this out.

Cllr Daniel Rose (Cons) added: "Groups are not going to go to Heather House until it's been improved and upgraded.

"This statistical analysis is important, but what should be given equal weighting is the potential of what it could be in the future."

A decision on whether the council invests further in the facility will be made in June.

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