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Multimillion town plan under fire

PUBLISHED: 18:21 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:38 23 August 2010

A MULTI million pound proposal to transform the town centre has been recommended for approval despite prospective MPs vowing to fight the scheme. The redevelopment of the Gravesend Heritage Quarter has divided opinion within the community and has attract

A MULTI million pound proposal to transform the town centre has been recommended for approval despite prospective MPs vowing to fight the scheme.

The redevelopment of the Gravesend Heritage Quarter has divided opinion within the community and has attracted attention from a number of Gravesham's parliamentary candidates.

On Tuesday council planning officers published a report, which recommended approval of the proposal. The ambitious plan by developer Edinburgh House will now be finally decided upon at a specially arranged planning meeting with borough councillors next Monday at the Woodville Halls.

Labour's parliamentary candidate Kathryn Smith, UKIP's Geoffrey Clark and Independent candidate Alice Dartnell have all said they will fight the proposal if elected in the forthcoming general election. They have called for the application to be put before the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who can then appoint an independent planning inspector to conduct an inquiry.

Despite calls to MP Adam Holloway and Liberal Democrat candidate Anna Arrowsmith, they have not responded with their views on the scheme which is set to transform Gravesend town centre.

Ms Smith, who vowed to fight the plans, added: "Should I be elected, I will be writing to the Secretary of State demanding the decision be called in, irrespective of which party is in power.

"Gravesend needs a high-quality development to regenerate the town and provide much needed jobs and services. The lack of affordable family housing in the scheme is shameful."

Mr Clark added: "I am very much against the plan. We believe that major developments such as these should involve a referendum.

"At the moment the government just does what it wishes, consults the public and then says 'Well we'll do it anyway'."

He confirmed that he will also write to the Secretary of State demanding the plans are considered.

The development, submitted by Edinburgh House, would see more than 120,000 sq ft of retail space created, about 600 apartments, a hotel, restaurants and an entertainment district, all at a cost of £120 million.

Miss Dartnell agreed regeneration was needed but would like more work done to protect the town's heritage.

She said: "I am not against development or anything like that. Obviously there is a need for Gravesend to thrive.

"As a resident I do understand the economics but there is a genuine concern among business owners in the quarter I have spoken to about the existing empty shops. I would like to see something done about that before any new development is discussed."

The council officers who recommended the plan also suggested it go before the Secretary of State.

They have asked for a proposed mound in St Andrews Gardens be removed, the height of buildings around St George's church be reduced and a review of the number of apartments in the Eastern quarter be conducted.

Council Leader Mike Snelling said: "Monday was arranged due to the size and importance of the plan s.

"There is no mystery to this meeting or the timing before the election. Our officers have been working on this for around three years now and we scheduled the meeting as soon as the report was ready.

"We know the level of interest so have arranged it at the Woodville Halls to allow more people to attend," he said.

While some candidates have been vocal over the plan, English Democrat candidate Steven Uncles and Green Party member Richard Crawford believe this is a council matter.

"I think it should be noted that this is a local issue and we are talking about a national election."

Mr Crawford added he was broadly in favour of the proposal as a way of regenerating the town.

He said "On the High Street and New Road there are a few empty shops so any development is to be welcomed.

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