Published: 13:38, 13 June 2019
| Updated: 16:36, 13 June 2019
A multi-million pound regeneration project should be completed "with urgency" says a newly formed council.
At the end of May, Labour councillor Roger Truelove was voted in as leader of Swale council's new coalition administration, which is made up of the Labour group, Swale Independents (SI), the Liberal Democrats (LD), the Green Party and independents.
Today, its members have responded to recent adverse publicity surrounding the £57 million Spirit of Sittingbourne project.
The scheme has been dogged by delays in construction, traffic problems and missed deadlines for completing parts of the project including the town's new multi-storey car park, which is being built off St Michael's Road.
Cllr Truelove, deputy leader Cllr Mike Baldock (SI) and cabinet member for economy and property Cllr Monique Bonney (Ind) have long had serious concerns about the project but accept it has to be completed.
Cllr Truelove said: "I have always had major reservations about this project, but this new council wants to see it completed with urgency and far less inconvenience to local people.
“We also need to make sure it doesn’t become a financial burden for council tax payers, so need to make sure it is a success.
“Whilst there are already legal agreements in place about many aspects of the scheme which we must honour, where it is in our power to improve the scheme, we will.”
Cllr Bonney, who is the cabinet member responsible for the town centre, said: “We are deeply unhappy with how this scheme has progressed; we have serious concerns about the design of the road layout, traffic flows, public safety and quality of the public realm works in addition to how these works have been communicated.
“The previous administration agreed to invest a significant amount of money in this scheme, we have inherited this contract and all its substantial liabilities so we will have to make the best of it.
“These concerns aren’t new and have been raised consistently as the scheme has progressed so it’s frustrating that action hasn’t been taken to avoid them.
“For this scheme to succeed, we need to make sure the developers are working with the council and local community, rather than ploughing ahead and creating ill will and resentment.
"Some level of traffic disruption is to be expected, but they’re not giving people enough notice in a clear and understandable way. It is not acceptable to the council or its residents."
Cllr Baldock added: "It is disappointing that the public have been repeatedly subjected to undelivered expectations, and it is important to the new administration that false hopes are not constantly raised.
“We have reservations about previous claims made for this project and want to ensure that future information is based on sound evidence and realistic expectations."