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Councils ditch tax-payer funded plans for swanky £50m offices in Maidstone

Tuesday 28th September 2021

Controversial proposals to build a £50million headquarters for two councils in Maidstone have been scrapped, writes Ciaran Duggan.

Long-standing plans to develop a four-storey civic centre at the former Royal Mail sorting office, near Maidstone East railway station, will not go ahead amid pandemic pressures.

The large office space would have been used by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) and Kent County Council (KCC).

It emerged yesterday that the scheme has been discounted, with other options being considered, such as housing and retail shops.

An MBC spokesman has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Among the several options previously considered was the possibility of new office accommodation for us and KCC, although no decisions were ever taken.

“However, this idea has now been completely discounted, given the changes to working practices brought about by the pandemic.”

Maidstone county councillor Gary Cooke (Con) supported the decision to abandon the costly project.

He said: “The pandemic has taught us all that there are more flexible and better ways of using our council estate.

“By working with staff who then have the option to work from home for certain days each week, we can not only save ratepayer money but it will also assist us in helping to lower our carbon footprint.”

The former Royal Mail sorting office site, in Sandling Road, was jointly bought by KCC and MBC in 2016.

Plans for a joint headquarters were first revealed in June 2020, with CGI images circulating of the desired HQ.

At the time, designs showed the new HQ would include a public plaza, gym, green roof and terrace, along with a 443-space car park.

Rental costs were expected to be similar for MBC in King Street, valued at around £670,000 per year, with extra for business rates and utilities.

However, MBC has stated that the “shared aspiration” for the location is to redevelop the land and turn it into a “mixed-used” development, which may include housing.

Meanwhile, KCC’s policy and resources committee debated the future of the scheme during a private meeting last Wednesday.

The county council has been recommended to sell its interest in the project and focus attention on resources within its own estate.

Cllr Cooke, who sits on the KCC committee, added: “This site is in a prominent position and therefore whatever is decided about future development, it must be of a high quality that reflects its gateway location into our County Town.”

Further updates are expected in the “coming weeks” over the next phase of the project, according to MBC.