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New look River Bar Council makes savings

APROMINENT - but empty - riverside venue is set to be- come the latest outlet in Maidstone's


restaurant economy. David Folb, who runs the Lashings nightspot in Upper Stone Street, has his eye on the abandoned River Bar, next to the Crown Courts. He plans to re-open it - pos-

sibly as soon as next month - as a brasserie and bar if talks about the lease are successful. The town already boasts 35

eating places - and is about to get more:

Restaurateurs have bought the former Post Office in King Street

 The old Chiesman furni- ture store in High Street is to become a large Chinese buffet Mr Folb said he aimed to

attract a new type of clientele to the proposed brasserie, not "horrible people and yobs drinking outside".

He said it would be a cafe-

style eaterie, open from 7am till late at night, serving "tasty,


meals". As the DownsMail went to

press, Mr Folb was trying to negotiate a lease that did not "tie" Lashings in the way pre- vious lessees had been. He said the building is in a terrible condition and he had builders on hold, until the lease was signed. There would not be structural alter- ations but London designers would change its look. "It will be a place where

you can have a nice bottle of wine by the river and take in the ambience and the view, rather than having 10 pints," added Mr Folb, who is also chairman of the star-studded Lashings World XI cricket club. The brasserie would bear the Lashings name and contain cricket memorabilia.

MAIDSTONE Council expects to save more than £1

/4 m a year after

merging its revenue and benefits functions with Tunbridge Wells Council. The decision to run the service jointly was made last October. Stephen McGinnes, Maidstone’s head of revenues and benefits, told the cabinet that savings targets had been exceeded. The projected saving of £359,000

in the current year was now expected to be £437,000 and future years were likely to be £587,000 compared to the initial target of £560,000. He told the cabinet that Maid-

stone’s share of the savings would be just over 50%. Overall, staffing levelswere cut by

20%, the equivalent of 14.9 full-time staff, including three of seven man- agement posts, said Mr McGinnes. The IT contract has also been re- viewed to improve functionality and make savings.

Latest news update from Maidstone Business Forum

Jazz festival – so smooth! MAIDSTONE’s annual jazz festival was the “smoothest” yet – but it needs a new spon- sor for 2012. Ivan White’s Pudding Lane photography business has been the main backer for the past three years but it will be the last time, he told the forum. The event involved a record 11 different venues and three big bands, but the high- light was the appearance of jazz legend Acker Bilk (pictured) at the Great Danes Hotel. “He can still play a hell of a good liquorice stick,” said Mr White of the clarinettist, fa- mous for ‘Stranger On The Shore’.

Town centre manager Bill Moss thanked Mr White. “Without

Ivan’s sponsorship we would not have had a jazz festival. This year’s was the smoothest running we have had.” The challenge now is to find a sponsor for next year, he added.

Oiling the wheels of publicity

A BARONESS was so im- pressed with Maidstone’s volunteer-run Urban Blue busthatshe useditto launch a Government ini- tiative atWestminster. She also presented a £2,000 cheque to the Urban Blue team, which provides medical facilities for clubbers who sustain minor injuries and acts as a “safe haven” for those waiting for transport home after nights out inMaidstone. Helen Newlove was made a baroness

for the work she did in trying to tackle ju- venile alcoholism after her husband Garry was murdered when he chal- lenged three youths who were vandalis- ing her car in 2007. She fronted a recent ITV programme, screened on June 30, featuring Maid- stone’s night-time economy, which in- cluded Urban Blue’s key role. Town centre manager BillMoss told the business forum: “Money could not buy that kind of publicity. Maidstone came out of it smelling of roses.”

WORK on the much-heralded High Street regeneration is scheduled to start on Monday, September 5, and run for 32 weeks. It will kick off with enabling

works in the Lower High Street – removing planters, the bus lane and traffic lights. Thatwill coincide with new traffic orders which, among other restric- tions, meansmotorists can only enter Mill Street via Pudding Lane.

Maidstone Council’s project manager for the scheme is John Foster. He outlined a communi- cations plan to keep retail- ers, the public and others informed. A liaison office will be set up in King Street to han- dle queries, plus a 24/7 helpline and a dedicated page on the

THE council has agreed a “channel shift strategy” – away from traditional customer con- tact to more online communica- tion.

This growth in online services follows complaints about the current over-the-phone contact, with residents saying it is not easily accessible or open at ap- propriate times. An evaluation of the council’s website visitors also reveals that 15% of contacts are via comput- ers in London, assumed to be local residentswho commute to the capital. Therefore, they would find it easier to commu- nicate with the council through a 24/7 online platform. Unnecessary face-to-face and telephone contacts will be lim- ited, diverting about 40,000 con- tacts to the web and producing a 20% rise in online transactions.

 MAIDSTONE is forecasting a £150,000 saving from teaming up with Swale Council on parking services.

by Peter Erlam Communication plan for High Street

council website. Town Centre Management has

set up a sub-group for all stake- holders, who will receive emailed newsletter updates. Leaflets will be distributed to retailers in mid-August explain- ing traffic circulation during the project. Mr Foster said: “There will be temporary disruption. There is no way round that but we want to communicate what will happen as much as we can.” Ivan White, who runs a pho- tography shop in Pudding Lane, called for parking enforce- ment not to be “over-zealous”. Meanwhile, Mr Foster praised

Kent County Council for con- tributing £600,000 to the proj- ect. “Let’s not forget it’s a partnership,” he added.

Retailers still believe in town

NEW retailers are moving into Maidstone – at the same time as na- tional chains are keeping faith in the town. Costa Coffee has just opened in the former Laura Ashley shop

in King Street, opposite the old Post Office, which itself has been bought by a small group of restaurateurs. Kent Reliance Building Society has opened a branch in High

Street and the old Chiesman furniture store is to become a large Chinese buffet, said town centre manager Bill Moss. Fashion chain Superdry plans to move into vacant premises at

27 FremlinWalk. Though TJ Hughes is closing its Mall Chequers branch, chains

Baroness Newlove hands over the cheque in front of Maidstone’s Urban Blue bus outside Westminster

such asWaterstone’s,Mothercare and Jane Norman, who are shut- ting shops across the UK, are remaining inMaidstone. Mr Moss said: “It’s a great reflection on the strength and buoy-

ancy of Maidstone that they are staying.” The town’s shop vacancy rate is 10.5%, which compares favourably with the rest of the UK (14.5%) and elsewhere in Kent.

New tourist group to promote the borough A NEW tourist organisation has been set up in Maidstone. MarketingMaidstone Town and Country has now become Maidstone TourismAs- sociation and membership is open to companies, individuals, or anyone involved in tourism in the area. The teamworks with supporting bodies that include Visit England, Tourism South East and Visit Kent.

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