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Town Centre Management update: Maidstone Business Forum Homes and heritage ‘key to success’

THE council hopes that focusing on the town’s heritage and encouraging more hous- ing could help the town centre fight back against out-of town-shopping. The bottom end of Gabriel’s Hill could be “greened up” and car parks turned into housing as part of proposals to make Maid- stone more attractive to tourists. The council plans to focus its attention on heritage and attractions, in order to make it more popular with visitors, the town centre management business forum was told. To counteract the changing trends in shopping, increased use of the internet and the growth of out-of-town retail parks, the council was looking at new ways to get vis- itors into the town centre, members heard. Cllr Malcolm Greer, cabinet member for economic and commercial development, said the work at the lower end of the High Street, which is due to start in April, would be the first stage of a mission to makeMaid- stone a magnet for the public. The redevelopment ofWren’s Cross, at the junction of Knightrider Street and Upper Stone Street, would see the start of im- provements to the southern approach to

Next objection THE business forum has lodged an official objection to plans by retail giant Next for a mega- store at J7 of theM20. However, Cllr Malcolm Greer

said he believed it was the right thing for the town. He said: “It will bring people

to Maidstone. And if we don’t agree to have it, they will go elsewhere, to Ashford or to Canterbury – and take the shop- pers with them. I see this as a great opportunity for Maid- stone.” Cllr Greer said he hoped engi- neering, research and develop- ment businesses relating to KIMSwould take up the surplus space on Eclipse Park. “AllowingNext to build there

does not mean we will allow more retail. This is just one ap- plication,” he said. He said: “Next is one of the

top stores in the country and if they want to come to Maid- stone, we must be doing some- thing right.”

tural events and live entertainment in the town which was not available at retail parks. “I am very positive about the way Maid-

stone is going, and for the future,” he said. Morrison’s is already progressing plans to

lease the ground floor of the former Army andNavy building inWeek Street, while the rest of the building would be given over to housing, Cllr Greer said. A new batch of housing is already under-

Gabriel’s Hill could be “greened up”

town and could well be an “enabling devel- opment” for the “greening” of the bottom end of Gabriel’s Hill. Cllr Greer said plans were afoot to create

more housing in the town centre, to create more footfall for the smaller retail units. But he said: “We have our heritage – a the-

atre, a museum and the river – things we have been criticised for not exploiting suf- ficiently in the past. “The restaurant trade is buoyant, based par- ticularly around Earl Street, and ifwe can en- courage more people to live in the town centre, the economy can only get better.” He said the aim was to encourage more cul-

A“CHALLENGE Anneka” style community project to create a garden in Park Wood is set to take place in the spring. Builders and landscapers working on the new KIMS hos- pital at Bearsted have offered to take part in the project, which will be run on the lines of the popular ‘80s TV programme, a forerunner to the likes of Groundforce, which saw An- neka Rice galvanising local people and groups in order to

way on the former ophthalmic hospital ten- nis courts, next to the Trinity Foyer, while plans to demolish the former Somerfield store and King Street car park could see an- other prime site for housing, with under- ground car parking, he said. “Another 80 houses in King Street would generate a lot of business for the town,” said Cllr Greer. The former post office was another large

site which could attract investment as the economy began to recover, he said. “Wren’s Cross has been vacant for 20

years and is now about to be redeveloped. We know there are investors around who want to putmoney into Maidstone, so these are exciting times indeed.”

KIMS workers join community project

complete a project that would benfit the whole community. Cllr MalcolmGreer said: “We

hope this kind of project will encourage other developers to offer something similar to ben- efit the area.” He said construction com-

pany Vinci would also bework- ing in conjunction with ex-offenders to help with their rehabilitation and running ca- reers days at three local gram- mar schools, outlining the job

Flying the town’s purple flag MAIDSTONE’S purple flag is set to be to be hoisted in the town over Easter weekend. Plans in place to celebrate the award include the town’s clubs

and bars serving purple cocktails, under purple lighting – with staff and customers possibly wearing purple clothes! The purple flag, presented to the town at the end of last year in recognition of the quality of its night time economy,was awarded following an all-night inspection of pubs, clubs and bars, as well as restaurants, take-aways, town centre streets and the Urban Blue bus, which offers aid and advice to late night revellers, as well as water, blankets and flip flops.

Cabbies’ fury over high street U-turn

A TOWN centre traffic U-turn has left cabbies fuming – and the council several thousand pounds out of pocket. Almost a year’s deliberation

led to new traffic regulation signs being installed to prevent drivers heading up the High Street towards the top of Mill Street, after a new route, bring- ingmotorists up Earl Street and along Pudding Lane was intro- duced following the upper High Street regeneration. But now, following consulta-

tion with traders, the old route is to be reinstated when the

32 East

lower High Street is upgraded later this year. Cllr Malcolm Greer told the

town centre’s business forum: “We have listened to what the traders said and reacted to it.” But taxi drivers who have al-

ways been able to drive along both parts of the High Street are furious they were not consulted about the decision. Dennis Conyon, who repre-

sents the licensed taxi operators on the forum, said: “This is the first we have heard about it. Wouldn’t it have been proper to consult us?”

The taxi drivers were at the forefront of the campaign to get proper signage installed after the road closure was intro- duced, as motorists continued to flout the law. At one point, town centre manager Bill Moss said: “If we were to fine every driver who flouted the rules at the lower end of the High Street, we would have enough money to clear the Greek national debt.” Drivers – other than taxis and

buses – caught driving up the lower High Street can still be fined until the ruling is reversed.

opportunities within the build- ing and architecture industries. Once KIMS was up and run-

ning, itwould offer outstanding teaching and training opportu- nities to young people. Cllr Greer said: “We have

some good schools in Maid- stone, but many people leave and go elsewhere to university, then never come back. “This is the kind of facility

that will encourage them to stay.”

Art proposals THE forum’s cultural commit- tee has lodged a bid with the Kent Art Investment Fund for projects in Maidstone. A second application has

been lodged by MaidstoneArea Arts Partnership. Both applica- tions are to support summer events in the town centre. The TCM has exciting plans for the town, should funding be avail- able, according to town centre manager Bill Moss.

Homeless issue THE town’s homeless problem was becoming more evident on the streets of Maidstone, the town centre forum was told. Management are working

with the police and Maidstone Borough Council to remove rough sleepers from shop door- ways and empty premises, par- ticularly inWeek Street.

Office survey THE council is to carry out a survey of empty office space in Maidstone. The survey will de- termine which premises could be made attractive to existing companies or start-ups.

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