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Sittingbourne News looks back at 10-year history of town's regeneration


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It was 10 years ago this week that the Sittingbourne News first hit the shelves. But how has the town itself changed in that time? We take a look at the biggest, most enduring story of the decade - regeneration...

The first detailed visions to improve Sittingbourne town centre appeared on a drawing board back in 2008. But the real progress only began years later.

Proposals were put forward to stop shoppers leaving the high street and spending their money elsewhere.

Artist's impression in 2011 showing how a bridge linking land to the north of Sittingbourne railway station to the town centre could look if Swale council approved the plans submitted by Spenhill on behalf of supermarket giant Tesco
Artist's impression in 2011 showing how a bridge linking land to the north of Sittingbourne railway station to the town centre could look if Swale council approved the plans submitted by Spenhill on behalf of supermarket giant Tesco

The Discovery Centre, the light bulb-shaped creation was the first to be Sittingbourne's new dawn.

In 2012 Tesco, which owns the Forum shopping centre, spearheaded its own project with a futuristic-looking bridge linking land north of the railway station to The Forum which would be enlarged by 40%.

Outline planning permission was granted a week before the town's new local newspaper, the Sittingbourne News Extra, was first published. But the plan never came to fruition, mainly because of objections from the Highways Agency.

But in 2015 Swale council finally took the plunge and signed up The Light cinema company to headline the £57 million town centre regeneration led by the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium.

Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con), leader of the council at the time, said: “Light Cinema offers something different from other chains. The decision to make this their first investment in Kent shows their faith in our plans."

Signing of the Spirit of Sittingbourne agreement: former Swale council leader Andrew Bowles and Richard Upton from the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium sign the "pledge" in the Forum car park in 2012. Picture: Rob Canis
Signing of the Spirit of Sittingbourne agreement: former Swale council leader Andrew Bowles and Richard Upton from the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium sign the "pledge" in the Forum car park in 2012. Picture: Rob Canis
From left, Cllr James Hunt, Richard Upton, former council leader Andrew Bowles, Quinn Estates chief executive Mark Quinn and former Cllr Mike Cosgrove at the start of the first phase of the Spirit of Sittingbourne development
From left, Cllr James Hunt, Richard Upton, former council leader Andrew Bowles, Quinn Estates chief executive Mark Quinn and former Cllr Mike Cosgrove at the start of the first phase of the Spirit of Sittingbourne development
Spirit of Sittingbourne announces its arrival in the town in 2015 with a board outside The Forum shopping centre car park advertising the cinema and restaurants
Spirit of Sittingbourne announces its arrival in the town in 2015 with a board outside The Forum shopping centre car park advertising the cinema and restaurants

It was the end of November 2018 that contractors began laying the foundations for the eight-screen cinema and entertainment complex on what is now known as Bourne Place coupled with a 63-bed Travelodge hotel and big-name restaurants.

For a while, it looked as if the project would stumble when the Tories lost control of the council and were replaced by a "rainbow coalition" in 2019. A new multi-storey car park had already suffered delays.

To add to the problems, the coronavirus pandemic hit, pushing back construction work. Creams dessert parlour and Pizza Express also walked away from the project as the leisure economy went into a nosedive.

But in May this year the cinema finally opened for business with a nine-lane bowling alley, retro arcade, diner and three bars. More than 2,500 film fans booked seats for the opening weekend.

Nando's and the Sentado Lounge also signed up for the regeneration project which is expected to attract up to 400,000 visitors a year.

Before: The Travelodge Hotel and cinema site was just a car park
Before: The Travelodge Hotel and cinema site was just a car park
Sittingbourne Travelodge hotel with 'growing wall'
Sittingbourne Travelodge hotel with 'growing wall'
Now: The Light Cinema in Bourne Place, St Michael's Road, Sittingbourne. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Now: The Light Cinema in Bourne Place, St Michael's Road, Sittingbourne. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The Sentado Lounge, Sittingbourne. Picture: Loungers
The Sentado Lounge, Sittingbourne. Picture: Loungers

Swale's new administration severed links with the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium putting plans to regenerate other parts of the town on ice. But work to turn the council's former waste depot in Eurolink Way into Princes Street retail park went ahead.

The site opened in summer 2018 and is now home to a Costa Coffee drive-thru, an Iceland’s Food Warehouse and a Home Bargains store.

Sittingbourne's skyline changed forever in 2012 when the water tower of the town's paper mill in Milton Road was demolished and the site reduced to rubble. It has since been replaced by housing, a £10 million Morrisons supermarket and petrol station.

Even that wasn't all plain sailing. Replacing the roundabout which served Sittingbourne Retail Park, Milton Road, Mill Way and Eurolink Way, with traffic lights still regularly creates gridlock for motorists.

New housing estates have included Redrow's Regent Quay development off Eurolink Way and more than 300 homes off the A2 next to The Street and Foxhill in Bapchild.

An aerial view of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project, taken by a drone. Picture: Mark Savage
An aerial view of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project, taken by a drone. Picture: Mark Savage
The water tower at the old Sittingbourne paper mill was demolished on Sunday, September 9, 2012. Picture: Andy Payton
The water tower at the old Sittingbourne paper mill was demolished on Sunday, September 9, 2012. Picture: Andy Payton
Construction of Morrisons supermarket off Milton Road/Mill Way, Sittingbourne. Picture: Darren Small
Construction of Morrisons supermarket off Milton Road/Mill Way, Sittingbourne. Picture: Darren Small
The Morrisons store in Mill Way. Sittingbourne. Picture: Chris Davey
The Morrisons store in Mill Way. Sittingbourne. Picture: Chris Davey

It's safe to say that in 10 years, the heart of the town centre is unrecognisable from how it looked when that very first Sittingbourne News came off the printing presses.

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