Published: 06:00, 01 January 2020
| Updated: 09:42, 03 January 2020
Back in January, we started the year with an optimistic look at the projects planned to be built across Kent in 2019.
They included an extension to the Ashford Designer Outlet due to be completed by September, a multi-storey car park in Canterbury and a new Marks and Spencer store in Maidstone. But as the sands of time drain away from the hour-glass for 2019, how many of the projects actually materialised?
The good news for Ashford is that the extension to the Designer Outlet Centre has been completed and was opened in November, only two months behind schedule.
Not everything went according to plan: a firework display and festive light switch-on to mark the opening was cancelled amid animal safety concerns, and McDonald's declined to return to the centre despite being offered a 200-seat franchise. Work halted temporarily when some of the construction workers were found to be illegal immigrants. A few units remain to be let in the New Year.
However, the extension has welcomed a host of 50 new units including Pret A Manger, YO! Sushi, Karl Lagerfeld, Dune, Sandro Paris, Maje, Reiss and Armani. Also - popular with the kids - the first Haribo store in Kent.
A number of existing tenants - such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Cath Kidston and Hugo Boss - moved into larger two-storey units.
The changes to the centre took two years to build and cost £90 million. One of the new visual attractions of the centre is the 2,300 sq metre living wall, comprising more than 120,000 plants. It is the largest such installation in Europe. The popular Garden of England children's play area was also modernised during construction work, with a £400,000 replacement featuring a seven metre-high tree-house and augmented reality capabilities. It opened in May, just a month later than anticipated.
In Canterbury, work did start on the new 370-space multi-storey car park in Station Road West, next to Canterbury West Station.
The £9.1m project will also include a living wall. Canterbury City Council is expecting an opening date in February or March next year.
At the start of the year we were looking forward to the opening of the Kent Mining Museum based at the old Betteshanger Colliery near Deal. We were promised a £40m visitor centre and conferencing suite amid the Betteshanger Country Park.
But the project fell on hard times when the owner, The Hadlow Group, was placed in educational administration by the government in May.
However, a knight in armour shining in the glow of the Davy lamps has just stepped in to save the scheme. Quinn Estates has successfully completed the purchase of the site from the Hadlow Group and has set about completing the unfinished construction work.
Quinn's managing director Huw Evans said: “We are delighted to bring to a close the uncertainty.
"We are also delighted to bring a new ambition and enthusiasm to an asset that I, as a local resident and regular visitor, know has huge potential.
“Our vision is to deliver a regional super hub of the highest standard with social, sporting, educational and cultural excellence at its core.
"Significant investment has already been put into acquiring the site along with further funds set aside to complete the construction works and to recruit additional staff.
"This is to support those who have continued to work through the uncertainty, who will independently drive forward a range of initiatives to make the park a success.”
So now the project is one to look forward to for next year.
Dover fared better. The £26 million Dover Leisure Centre opened on time in February.
The centre has the county's first eight-lane swimming pool to be purpose-built to Sport England specifications for a county standard competition, and a learning pool. The centre, run by Places Leisure includes a 120-station gym, a four court sports hall, sauna and steam room and two outdoor 3G football pitches.
Four hundred jobs were created on the Isle of Sheppey when Aldi opened its new 14-acre distribution centre at Neats Court, in Queenborough in February - a month ahead of schedule.
The building had been almost four years in the making and cost £50m. The 645,834sq ft warehouse serves 60 of the company's stores in the South East. The German retailer now has 10 distribution centres and 827 stores across the UK.
It was five months later than planned, but Sittingbourne's 317-space Bourne Place multi-storey car park, did open in September.
Cllr Monique Bonney (Ind), the cabinet member for economy and property at Swale council, explained “We weren’t entirely comfortable with a few aspects of the design, so we’ve had to spend a bit more time getting these sorted out before we were happy to open."
The car park in St Michael's Road, is part of a much-larger multi-million pound town centre redevelopment, known as The Spirit of Sittingbourne.
A new road layout outside Sittingbourne Railway Station was also completed in 2019 as part of the project and attention is now focussing on the delivery of a eight-screen multiplex picturehouse to be opened by Light Cinema next year.
The Spirit of Sittingbourne scheme is designed to claw back shoppers who currently leave the town and travel to Maidstone, Canterbury or Medway.
Meanwhile shoppers in Maidstone are still waiting for the opening of the much-anticipated Marks and Spencer store under construction at Eclipse Park in Maidstone. The company has originally promised that Maidstone would be its "premier retail opening in 2019."
Instead it has been put back - first till Easter next year and now it is promised for "October at the latest."
However, local firm Gallaghers, who are doing the construction work, are confident that they will complete the building by Easter, handing it over to M&S for six-months of fitting out.
The 84,044sq ft building is destined to include a Food Hall and cafe as well as selling clothing and home goods.
The site was originally intended to be a Waitrose, but the company pulled out in 2017.
In Gravesend, the controversial project for 2019 was the proposed construction of 400 new homes off Coldharbour Road. There were plenty opposed to the plans, but Gravesham council granted permission and construction has begun, though it is not yet completed. Two house-builders are involved in the project: Bovis Homes and Persimmon.
In September, Bovis held a launch event and began selling the yet-to-be-completed homes "off-plan."
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More by this authorAlan Smith
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