£120 MILLION re-development plan of Gravesend town centre has been put forward to Gravesham Council this week.
Devised by property and investment company, Edinburgh House, the plan aims to improve Gravesend’s status as a shopping destination as well as a modern and attractive place to live.
The re-development will be focused on three main sites within the Heritage Quarter area of the town centre, the Western Quarter, the Eastern Quarter and St Andrews Garden.
The Western Quarter will be built as an extension on to the Saint Georges Shopping centre, also owned by Edinburgh House, and will have Saint Georges Church as its focal point.
A car park currently adjoining the centre will be demolished and moved underground, to make way for new shops as well as offices and a church hall.
The Eastern Quarter will be located just behind the town’s indoor market where the market car park is currently situated. The site will feature five ‘family friendly’ restaurants as well as modern apartments surrounding a European style piazza square.
In an aim to attract tourism to the town, Edinburgh House also plan to build a 50 bedroomed four star hotel on the site.
The St Andrews Garden site will be based on the banks of the River Thames and will consist of a play area for children and a garden for people to or enjoy at their leisure.
The plans for the Heritage Quarter are two years in the making and have changed drastically since the London based firm’s original plans. Their aim to build a 33 storey tower, housing offices and apartments, in the town centre, was met with disapproval with residents and Gravesham Council alike back in July 2008.
However, since the rejection of the plan dubbed the “Concrete Jungle” by residents four years ago, Jonathan Shaw, a consultant advisor for Edinburgh House, explained that things have changed this time around, he said: “We’ve listened and we’ve changed the proposals, for example St George’s church is very much with the re-development built around the Saint George’s centre and I think you can see from the images it enhances that public realm.
“Certainly we have had to take account of what people thought but we didn’t want to walk away.”
The re-development isn’t just about changing the architectural appearance of Gravesend for Edinburgh House, they are also keen on the economic benefits the development can bring for the town, especially in regards to job opportunities.
The re-developers estimate that their plans would generate 800 jobs, with 500 of those jobs being permanent positions. The company have also stated that the construction alone could generate 250 jobs, all of which will be given first refusal to Gravesend building firms as part of their ‘Local Firms Pledge’.
This is providing that firms meet a level of agreement with Edinburgh House, in regards to quality and price, but before contracts are handed out there’s another condition, an effort to create opportunities for young people to gain experience in the industry must also be made.
Investing in the future of Gravesend’s youth is something that company appears to be passionate about and wants to promote this by a creating a relationship with North West Kent College.
Mr Shaw, whose role focuses specifically on community employment skills, said: “It [the development] isn’t just about the generation of buildings, it’s about putting people and Gravesham people, at the heart of the development.
“There would be opportunities even if we didn’t have that strategy, but working together with people like Northwest Kent College can draw together the different funding streams that come from the government, so that we can really enhance our offer for young people.”
Urban Gravesham, a residents group who work to protect the heritage status of Gravesend, aren’t convinced by the plans.
The group were part of the successful party that campaigned against Edinburgh House’s vision for Gravesend back in 2008 and, despite the current development’s endorsement by heritage trust, English Heritage, are equally as sceptical this time around.
Gill Stevens, Secretary for Urban Gravesham, said: “We believe Gravesend has a successful future as an attractive riverside town and this requires sympathetic regeneration, which is what we will be looking for when the new application is revealed in detail.
“We have faith that the council will make the right decision, but we feel that Gravesend needs to be taken in the right direction and we are not entirely sure that Edinburgh House, a company that aren’t even based in the area, is the right people to do that.”
Naysayers aside, Edinburgh House are confident that their plan for the future of Gravesend has enough to sufficiently impress the council, with a particular aspect of their project that would help social housing in Gravesend.
The development will create 330 new homes in the town centre, with 30% of those being classed as ‘affordable housing’.
The building of the new homes will also include the opportunity of a joint ownership venture, between residents and Edinburgh House, for those that would benefit from option financially.
Homes created by the re-development would be apartments, but as an agreement with the council, the company will be building new council houses off site at other locations in Gravesend.
It will now be a long time until the results of the council’s decision will appear, with the plans to face a period of intense scrutiny from a council regulatory board over a period of at least four months.
One thing is for certain, if the council do give Edinburgh House the response they want, the face of Gravesend town centre will be completely changed, whether it will be a positive act of progression for the town however, will remain to be seen.