Published: 05:00, 13 May 2022
| Updated: 14:44, 13 May 2022
A family-run cafe will close after a council chose to build its own at a country park.
Owners of the Leybourne Lakes Café, near Snodland, had been locked in a long-running fight with the authority and launched a second petition last month in a desperate attempt to keep trading.
But Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) approved plans for a new lakeside café and watersports facility last October.
Leybourne Lakes is now operated by the Tonbridge and Malling Leisure Trust (TMActive) on behalf of the local authority and the council cannot grant an additional lease for both cafés to operate.
The new facility, costing £880,000, will include a café, changing rooms, toilets, and storage facilities for water sports equipment.
Construction has already started on the single-storey building, which will be located on the north-west corner of the park’s Lake Ocean.
Owners of the Leybourne Lakes Café said they were "utterly devastated" at the new plans, and started a petition last year which received 3,500 signatures.
They said it was a "disgraceful act by the council to destroy a small family business and profit from their hard work over the last five years".
But their calls to stay, including the petition, were unsuccessful following a cabinet meeting in February.
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch helped back the efforts to save the café and encouraged the owners to start a second petition, asking for permission to continue operating there.
Speaking to the KentOnline after the petition was launched, she said: “I have been supporting the café throughout the process and it is a shame that their contract has come to end.
“I suggested one last push with a petition to enable them to operate from elsewhere in the park.
“It is clearly a popular venue and the team are always friendly. Many will be sad to see them go”
More than 1,700 signatures were recorded in the petition that was launched last month, but it was unsuccessful.
The family-run café is now being forced to close in mid-June, when the new business operated under the TMActive contract is set to take over.
In a message to Facebook followers, the Leybourne Lakes Cafe said: "I am afraid to say we simply cannot fight any more. Tracey Crouch did her best, but we will be leaving the lakes mid June.
"Thank you all for your continued support, all the best Chaz, Angela and lakes café team."
Many people replied offering support, saying that they would be sad to see them go.
One said: "The lakes won't be the same without you. If you find a new location let us know where you are. We will come and find you. Good luck."
Another replied: "Such a shame. I would much rather spend my money with you than a council-run café. We should be supporting our small independent traders."
Owner Angela Williams, told KentOnline they are "drained and worried regarding the future".
She added: "It's been a long fight and we are amazed at the support we have gained from the local community.
"Over the six years of being here, we have built such a community hub, and we can't thank them enough.
"We were promised a solution from the head of TMBC, but that never happened when he came to visit us in summer, so now we have nothing.
"They simply don't care what the community wants."
Council leader Matt Boughton commented: “On becoming leader last July, I inherited a difficult situation as the four year contract signed by the operator expired in March 2021.
"TMBC had also unanimously agreed to transfer the management of Leybourne Lakes to TMActive last year, which means we cannot grant a lease within an area already leased to the Leisure Trust.
“I met with the operator at Leybourne Lakes and discussed options, resulting in a commitment from cabinet to offer future opportunities in Tonbridge and Malling when they become available.
"This remains our commitment to the operator.”
The Leybourne Lakes Café team has said it will now be "looking for any opportunities for us" and it is not yet known where they will relocate to.