Published: 06:00, 27 December 2019
| Updated: 15:00, 02 January 2020
Plans for the county's first ever indoor electric go-kart complex were deferred by Medway Council during a heated debate.
The future of the "unique" leisure experience at Medway Distribution Centre in Gillingham remains uncertain after councillors failed to reach a final verdict on the plan submitted by SOAR.
The applicant wants to build a 300m long multi-level track placed entirely within two vacant units in Courteney Road, which is currently a builders merchants. They also say up to 25 new jobs would be created.
But objections were raised by an unnamed business, claiming a firm on the Medway City Estate will be ready to occupy the site in the near future, which would employ 59 workers over the next three years.
Planning officers advised councillors to refuse, saying the need for employment space outweighs the need for informal leisure and the site is protected in the Local Plan. But a majority of members disagreed during the Chatham Gun Wharf meeting on Wednesday.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con), vice-chairman of the planning committee, was among the supporters, who said: "I think this will be better for Medway than any other option that is in front of us."
But chairman Cllr Diane Chambers (Con) said employment land was being "gobbled" up for the wrong ventures and warned that if the committee continues to break Local Plan policy then "we may as well not have a policy".
SOAR has a countywide portfolio, which includes a three-year-old trampoline park at units five and six of Medway Distribution Centre.
If their plans are approved, a maximum of 24 drivers would use the go-kart track each hour in a variety of "roll up" and scheduled events. Customers would predominantly be aged 12 and over.
The attraction would open seven days a week from noon to 10pm on Mondays to Thursdays, noon to midnight on Fridays and 10am to midnights on Saturdays and Sundays.
Ward councillor Barry Kemp (Con), supporting the application, said a range of businesses were based at the site, including McDonald's, KFC and a DVLA test centre.
An objection was raised by an anonymous business who claimed a "firm full-price offer" had been agreed with the landlord for the units and an undisclosed company was ready to take occupancy in the near future.
The objector describes the firm as a rapidly growing company based on the Medway City Estate, which currently employs 17 people, but would be expected to create 42 new jobs over the next three years.
Cllr Stephen Hubbard (Lab) warned the committee against reaching a "premature" decision. He said: "We are starting to get the final push to get this Local Plan adopted, now is not the time to tinker around and change employment land."
But, Cllr Simon Curry (Lab) claimed the council's Local Plan from 2003 was "outdated" while Cllr Martin Potter (Con) said: "It would be a great facility and adds to the Medway offer, unique offer in Kent."
"This will be better for Medway than any other option that is in front of us..." Cllr Stuart Tranter
Medway Council's head of planning, Dave Harris, sided with Cllr Hubbard, saying there needs to be an improvement in the value of employment in Medway, which is "relatively low".
Planning officers recommended refusal but councillors rejected this by 12 votes to two.
However, the final decision has been deferred until the next planning committee on January 15 while officers organise the "right planning conditions".
KMTV report on the decision
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter