Published: 15:28, 14 September 2018
| Updated: 14:39, 19 September 2018
Gillingham High Street could be reopened to traffic as part of a radical new plan to reinvigorate the area.
The idea to open up the currently pedestrianised zone is just one potential idea to emerge as planning officers look to create a Gillingham Town Centre "masterplan".
A public exhibition on Wednesday at The Salvation Army church in Green Street highlighted "opportunities" and "constraints" connected to development in the area, which the council admits is in a tired and poor condition.
Officers say opening up the high street to traffic would potentially bring more people to the area, and have a positive impact on anti-social behaviour and crime.
The idea was generally welcomed but some at the exhibition said other regeneration ideas - such as the conversion of The Britton Farm Mall into office space and homes - would be counterproductive.
"De-pedestrianisation is a lovely idea," said David Bird, owner of Look Now opticians in Jeffrey Street, Gillingham. "If it's done in the right way it will solve a multitude of problems including crime and anti-social behaviour."
But he added: "The big problem is that a lot of the proposals clash. If you want to bring retail into the high street you don't try to turn a Class A1 retail property into homes. The plan has been passed through the council without talking to anyone - this is just an exhibition.
"There are already plans to turn the focal point of our town - the shopping mall, which has been allowed to fall into a terrible condition - into living accommodation and offices."
Peter Baxter, a former Royal Marine from Gillingham, added: "A lot could be done with Gillingham High Street. There's too many restaurants and too many hairdressers - they need to turn it back into shops and pubs. Some of the ideas are good and some are bad. De-pedestrianisation is good because it gets more people to the high street."
Council planning officers said the masterplan had not yet been formalised and that the exhibition was an opportunity to identify possible areas of regeneration.
The exhibition highlighted "opportunities" in the existing direct routes into the High Street, numerous bus routes and bus stops, and pedestrians access, while noting the "scale and width" High Street is "attractive" and there was opportunity for development in clusters of vacant and underused sites.
It also noted "constraints" in the fact the high street was in a "tired and poor" condition; that shops were thinly spread over a long distance, and there was potential for "tension" between the potential for developing car parks and the need for parking.
It noted that Britton Farm mall was in "poor condition" adding: "It is significantly underused and has poor unattractive links to the High Street despite being directly connected."
Cllr Jane Chitty, Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, said: “Our town centres remain an important part of Medway’s business community and we are committed to providing growth for all our residents, for now and in the future.
"As part of our Local Plan process, which local authorities are required by central government to set to identify how an area could evolve and provide enough homes, jobs and infrastructure for a growing population, we have commissioned a planning and urban design company to consider potential approaches for Gillingham town centre.
"A public event was held to showcase the initial work and to give residents and local employees the opportunity to find out more information about the work being carried out. Members of the public will have the opportunity of providing formal feedback as part of the Local Plan process.”