Café owners say a council’s plans to open a rival venue will sound the death knell for their business and say they're devastated after claiming a 3,500-signature petition was ignored.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) have approved a scheme for a new lakeside café and watersports facility at Leybourne Lakes Country Park, near Snodland.
It’s anticipated the new buildings will open this summer and the £880,000 plan will include a new café, changing rooms, toilets, and two existing containers on site.
This has angered the existing café owners who have been holding meetings with the council, asking for support.
But they found out, from a cabinet meeting last Thursday, their calls to stay, including the petition, had been unsuccessful in the long-term.
While councillors agreed their venue could move to another area of the park, the decision added this would only be: "Until the opening of the new facilities."
The decision went on to note the current café operators would be considered for any future opportunities in the borough.
The owners took to social media, saying: “Hi everyone, just to keep you updated, after [the] cabinet meeting.
“We will not be offered any solution and we have lost our business.
“When [the new] cafe is built, no alternative sites - nothing, all broken promises. We are utterly devastated.”
The comments saw council leader Matt Boughton (Con) respond, saying the council "hadn't broken any promises."
He said since July 2021, he, and fellow councillor Des Keers (Con), had been trying to find a solution. He first became involved around the future of The Leybourne Lakes Café last July when elected as leader of TMBC.
The issue has arisen, he said, as a four-year contract, signed by The Leybourne Lakes Café, expired in March 2021.
Instead a tenancy at will had been signed which allowed both parties to terminate the arrangement at any time.
Later that year, the council agreed to transfer operations at the country park to Tonbridge and Malling Leisure Trust and this took effect in November.
Cllr Boughton added: "It meant the tenancy at will with TMBC was terminated and the leisure trust has allowed the operator to stay until the new building is completed.
"There is a legally binding agreement in place between TMBC and the leisure trust which means the council cannot grant a lease within an area already leased to the leisure trust.
"This means that TMBC cannot grant a new lease to any operator for Leybourne Lakes now."
He added: "This was an extremely difficult situation to walk into in July 2021 and, through this time, Des and I have approached the issue openly and honestly with the operators.
"We have done everything we can to make sure that the eco café has the opportunity to help Leybourne Lakes thrive and the current operator is treated fairly.
"It is regrettable that TMBC cannot be in a position to grant an extension to the lease as requested, but we have offered alternative opportunities already to the operators."
But this was disputed by the owners, who messaged Cllr Boughton directly, adding: "Which other opportunities?" And later added: "Not to worry, I [will] claim income support from government until you find a solution. Fantastic work."
Cllr Boughton told KentOnline: "Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council Cabinet unanimously agreed to include the operator on any tender list for future appropriate opportunities just three weeks ago. Sadly one hasn’t yet arisen but we will inform them as soon as one does.
"I appreciate this change is difficult for the operator and, since becoming leader in July, I have tried to work constructively with them.
"The original contract expired in March 2021 and, since Tonbridge and Malling Leisure Trust now operates Leybourne Lakes, the council cannot grant a new lease."
The owners of The Leybourne Lakes Café have been approached for further comment.