Published: 13:02, 13 August 2018
One of Maidstone's most best recognised buildings is set for a fresh start, as one of five town centre sites marked for redevelopment.
Len House at the bottom of Mill Street, currently home to the Robins and Day Peugeot car dealership, was built in 1938 by Howard and Souster in the modernist style as a car showroom, filling station and repair workshop for Rootes - then the biggest car manufacturing company in the country.
But now the grade II listed building is said to be no longer "fit for purpose" as a car showroom and Robins and Day want to move into new purpose-built premises on the Park Wood Industrial Estate.
In April, Maidstone council granted Chancerygate (Leinster Mews) the owner of a site off Cuxton Road planning permission for a new car showroom.
The firm's agents Savills told the council: "The applicant has been approached by Peugeot who would like to relocate their existing car dealership to Cuxton Road.
"Peugeot’s existing buildings are no longer considered to be fit for purpose and given the constraints of being Listed, the renovation and redevelopment of their site does not offer a viable solution to achieve a replacement modern, car dealership.
The agents said the move would have the benefit of freeing up the town centre site for a "more appropriate use" - thought to mean housing.
Maidstone council said Len House was one of five key sites in the town centre that it had identified for re-generation.
Cllr David Burton, the chairman of the strategic, planning, sustainability and transport committee, said the council would prepare a design brief for Len House to illustrate how it could be developed to achieve "a sympathetic, yet dynamic improvement of the town centre."
He said: "The options, which could include a range of mixed-uses (commercial, residential or cultural), will be considered by the committee in October.
"Len House is a listed building and therefore will be preserved as part of Maidstone’s unique heritage."
Cllr Burton (Con) said: "Our overarching aim is to provide a clear, long-term vision that can be considered by any of the owners of each site as part of their future plans.”
The other four-sites earmarked for redevelopment are the Gala Bingo and Granada House, which is another modernist-style building like Len House; Mote Road (the open parking area to the rear of Thrifty car rental); land west of the river from Baltic Wharf to Wicks/Asda Living, and the area around Maidstone West station including the Broadway Shopping Centre.
The council emphasised that "no red lines" had as yet been drawn for any of these sites.
The Park Wood Industrial estate is fast becoming the car dealer hub of Maidstone. Firms already there include Wilmoths, Invicata Motors, Drake and Fletcher, F.G.Barnes, Maidstone Subaru, Mercedees Benz, Smart, Motorline, ST Trade Cars, Infiniti and Vanwise, as well as several automotive support businesses such as Express Factors, Sextons and South Eastern Cartec.
Robins and Day is a wholly owned subsidiary of Peugeot. Neither the main company nor the local branch was able to offer a comment when approached.
*In an unrelated application, Maidstone council is considering a proposal to demolish the Haynes K Vehicle Repairs Centre in Waterloo Street to permit the construction of a 2.5 storey apartment building with six one-bed flats and four two-bed flats. Application number 18/503186 refers.