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Mixed reception for development plans

Ambitious plans for a £35 million regeneration of Herne Bay town centre have been met with mixed reactions. Scores of people packed into the Salvation Army Hall on Tuesday as Bay councillors gave their views.

The scheme, led by developers Denne Construction and regeneration experts Coplan Estates, includes a supermarket, shopping centre, homes, multi-storey car park, hotel and a medical centre. It could be complete as early as 2014. Concerns have been raised that the development will draw people away from shops in Mortimer Street, but that suggestion was shot down by finance guru Cllr Peter Lee. He said:

"There's no point in establishing a new shopping centre and killing off the old one. The objective is to make one complement the other. Currently, only 31 per cent of the money that comes into the town is actually spent here. Why should people come from outside Herne Bay when we can't even get the people who live here to shop in the town? It's taken a long time but we are determined to get it right for the future of Herne Bay"

Fellow councillor Robert Bright, owner of Lisa B's furniture store in William Street, said:

"As somebody who does own a small shop in the town, I think a new retail centre with several well known shops will bring people into the town. That means more people in Mortimer Street, more people in William Street and more people in my shop."

Lib Dem Ron Flaherty praised the proposal, but said:

"On the plans it says medical centre. But that's only a couple of words on a map at the moment. The city council has got to take the initiative because doctors will sit back until the heavens open. We need to get them all together and look at what's possible. We could do what Whitstable did at Estuary View under the guidance of Dr Ribchester."

Not everyone was behind plans to redevelop the proposed site. Student tour operator Diane Nutter claims losing the coach parking in William Street could cost the town dearly. She told the meeting her company brings 6,250 students to the town every year, arriving weekly from February to November. The coaches park in William Street car park five days a week and the drivers stay in rented accommodation or B&Bs on the seafront. She said:

"I'm all for the principle of the development, but having to park the coaches well outside the town is simply not viable. In all we bought well over £600,000 to the town last year and that doesn't include the money spent in Whitstable and Canterbury. I feel the loss of important long-stay parking facilities in Herne Bay will have a devastating effect on the town."

Bay councillor Roger Matthews also rubbished the proposed development:

"This started off as a redevelopment of the town centre, but now it's moved. We've already got a shopping centre in Mortimer Street that nobody can get at. That's what we should be concentrating on. There are other sites in Herne Bay, but they're not council owned and would have to be purchased. That's the problem."

County councillor Jean Law hit back at Cllr Matthews, saying:

"This is a fantastic proposal. Does Cllr Matthews really believe we've lost sight of William Street and Mortimer Street? Why does he think we've spent the last 18 months working with Chris West and Herne Bay Town Partners to make it look better to improve it? There's room for both."

HB Gazette 29th July 2010

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