Published: 21:00, 16 March 2015
Members of Swale council's planning committee have tonight voted to approve phase one of the £100 million Sittingbourne regeneration.
Work will start this summer on constructing a seven screen cinema, seven restaurants, four retail units, 215 residential apartments, a new public square and a 308-space multi-storey car park.
The buildings will go up opposite the train station on the Forum car park and on the existing Cockleshell Walk and Spring Street car parks.
Scroll down for video
The new shops will go on the Biffa site across Milton Road from Morrisons.
At a special 90-minute long meeting at Swale House, Sittingbourne, councillors considered the application from the Spirit of Sittingbourne development consortium.
It is made up of the Cathedral Group, Quinn Estates, Swale council and Essential Land with the aim of regenerating the town and proving leisure facilities for borough residents.
Around 790 jobs will be created over the course of the project, which will deliver an estimated economic benefit of £326m for Sittingbourne over the next decade.
According to the council, the approved plans are set to transform the environment around Sittingbourne’s railway station, creating a more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly experience upon arrival.
The scheme, which aims to reinvent and rejuvenate the town centre will increase footfall by more than 400,000 a year, creating a night-time economy around the cinema and restaurants.
In addition to the new leisure facilities, shoppers, currently being lost to Bluewater and other areas, will hopefully be attracted by a range of new retail outlets.
Speaking on behalf of the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium, Cathedral Group chief executive Richard Upton said: “We are thrilled by the committee’s decision.
"We have worked really hard with Swale council to get to this stage, but finally we can now start work to give Sittingbourne the support it needs to build a really successful future.
"Rather than roads and roundabouts, we want people and visitors to be confronted by leisure and entertainment as soon as they arrive in the town centre.
"This is an exciting opportunity to create a prosperous new future for Sittingbourne and the kind of challenge we relish.”
Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles (Con) said: “Clearly, we are delighted the planning committee has approved Phase 1.
"Now at last, the building work can start and the improvements that have been talked about for so long can get under way.
"The new cinema, restaurants and shops will make Sittingbourne the attractive destination that the people of Swale deserve”.
Although the plan has been given the go-ahead, Swale Labour's Cllr Roger Truelove has voiced concerns.
He said: "There were a number of ways in which this planning application fell short and these were reflected in the objections and concerns raised by the vast majority of public respondents, plus the Highways Agency, Kent Highways, Southeastern Trains, the council's parking department and Chalkwell Coaches.
"However, it has been democratically approved, though it won't be operative until the Highways Agency has removed its holding order. We have serious doubts about the business case and whether it will be delivered.
"But we must work with the existence of this scheme and prepare to build something much better around it, to make better use of all the land around the centre of Sittingbourne, including the High Street."
Phase 2 of the plan will be submitted for planning approval at a later date and involves the construction of a new council HQ in Central Avenue.