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W.J.Crouch butchers threatened by latest Bearsted planning proposal

Villagers turned out in force today to protest against plans to demolish their local shops.

More than 70 residents gathered outside The Parade in Bearsted to show support for the three businesses whose future is under threat.

East Sussex-based Evenden Estates, which owns the freehold of numbers 1 to 4, The Parade, has submitted an application to Maidstone council seeking permission to pull down the existing one-storey units and to replace them with three new retail units on the ground floor, topped by seven two-bedroom flats on a further two levels above.

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Some of the protesters outside The Parade
Some of the protesters outside The Parade

The building is not listed, but the applicants promised to retain the distinctive canopy along the front of the shops.

Rob Crouch owns the butchers which occupies two units and is still known locally by its earlier name of Rickwoods.

Mr Crouch said: “This could spell the end of the business.

“The freeholder suggested we could move back into one of the new units once they were built, but from what I’ve seen of the plans, they wouldn’t be large enough for us.

“Plus we would have to move out for a year. That is just not possible. Suppose we found premises in Sutton Valence or Penenden Heath or somewhere. We couldn’t expect our customers to follow us there.”

Shop manager Simon Rickwood with WJCrouch owner Rob Crouch
Shop manager Simon Rickwood with WJCrouch owner Rob Crouch

Mr Crouch said his company had invested £200,000 in updating the current property.The proposal could have implications for the company’s other branches in Staplehurst and Wadhurst.

He said: “We do all the preparation of pies, hams and so on here, and deliver them to the other branches.”

The second company under threat is Bearsted Computer Solutions. The joint manager, who asked to be identified only as Mick, said: If you add up all the people who work at Rickwoods, here and the newsagents next-door, this could affect 30-odd families in the village.

“The proposals are not in keeping with the village. They say they will try to keep the the traditional frontage, but we know in the end they will say that was not possible.”

Mary Richards and Roger Vidler of the Bearsted and Thurnham Society
Mary Richards and Roger Vidler of the Bearsted and Thurnham Society

Staff at Taylors the newsagents were also dismayed. One said: “We don’t want a carbuncle like that put up in the village.”

The leases are on all three shops expire within four months of each other in 2015.

The protest was organised by the Bearsted and Thurnham Society. Spokesman Roger Vidler said: “There are so many negatives: The applicants are only proposing seven parking spaces. That’s only one per flat, with none at all for the staff or customers of the retail units.”

Diana Sandford of Tower Lane, Bearsted, said: “That so many people have turned out at short notice to join this protest, just shows how important these shops are to the village. We really do care.”

Lisa Kirkwood with her daughter Lara
Lisa Kirkwood with her daughter Lara

Lisa Kirkwood of Sandy Mount said: “We moved here in 2010 to become part of this wonderful village. We feel so lucky every day to live here.

“These shops are part of what I call our Bearsted Triangle: the shops, the library and the playground, which we visit frequently.”

Fiona Marriner of Sutton Street said: “I’m just astounded such a proposal, three storeys high, could even be considered in the village Conservation Area.”

The building dates from 1902 when it was rebuilt after a fire.

Rosemary Harlow of Mallings Drive has lived in the village for 50 years. She summed up the feelings of most Bearsted villagers - which is now contending with five applications in the area. She said: “Bearsted is now under siege.”

Rosemary Harlow: Village under siege
Rosemary Harlow: Village under siege

Details can be seen on the Maidstone council website: www.maidtone.gov.uk, under planning reference 14/505873. The closing date for comments is Wednesday, December 31.

The application will be discussed by Bearsted Parish Council’s planning committee tomorrow (Thursday) at 7.30pm in the Memorial Hall.

Video: Villagers protest against plans to demolish shops

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