Bluewater is expanding - but what about Gravesend and Dartford's town centres?
PUBLISHED: 11:19 26 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:02 26 April 2017
The expansion will bring more than 2,000 jobs
As plans to expand Bluewater Shopping Centre have been approved, the leader of Gravesham council has warned Gravesend “cannot afford” to lose any more big name brands from its town centre.
Dartford council unanimously approved Bluewater’s plans to expand the Greenhithe shopping centre’s West Village and create five additional shopping units.
The plans are expected to create 2,300 jobs once they’re complete by 2021, with 500 construction jobs expected during the works.
But David Turner, leader at Gravesham council, raised concerns.
He said: “We’re not happy about it, myself and officers at the council are having a meeting about it later this week to discuss the potential impact, and what we can do.
“Our town centre is doing better than Dartford’s, but we’ve lost M&S and we’ve lost BHS, we can’t afford to lose another big name store.
“It’s true if you walk through the town centre there’s a large amount of footfall, and we’ve opened our historic market, we’re going to have to focus on these things to continue to be a success and bring people in.”
As part of its approval, Bluewater will have to pay out £612,000 in mitigation to Dartford and £519,000 to Gravesend.
Cllr Turner said he did not yet know where that money would be spent, while Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford council explained the money could go toward limiting the impact on traffic, air quality and improving public transport toward the shopping centre.
Cllr Kite added: “We have to accept that people want to shop at Bluewater, and it’s not for us to turn the clock back and try and change that.
“The best town centres are adapting and across the country the successful ones are encouraging more people to live there so the traders, pubs and restaurants they need are only a walk away.
“That’s what’s gradually happening in Dartford and our High Street occupancy rates are actually good and getting better.”
In Gravesend High Street, Grace Apps, owner of new independent bakery Vegan Antics cautiously welcomed the news.
She said: “I don’t know if it’s really practical in terms of the rise in traffic we’ll see, but overall it’s good news mostly to get more people visiting the area.”
Meanwhile Eve King, who has run Evie’s Sewing Centre on Queen Street since 1989 claims Bluewater has already had its impact on the town.
“The damage has already been done, I get customers from all over because I’m a specialist, but everywhere else in the town there are Poundlands, discount stores and charity shops, my competitors are closing because of the pressure, it’s good for my business, but it’s not good for the town centre.
“I won’t shop at Bluewater, there’s nothing there that I need, and when I send people there for something I might not have, they often complain to me that a store didn’t have what they needed either.”
Robert Goodman, general manager at Bluewater said: “Following the committee’s decision, our focus is now on working in partnership with our stakeholders on the detail of the proposals over the coming months.”