A major town center regeneration scheme that would have seen hundreds of new homes and a cinema built has been scrapped after developers insisted it needed to be bigger.
The £75million Westgate Cultural Quarter project was heralded as a “key milestone” in Dartford’s transformation when it was approved by councilors in 2020.
He would have seen a derelict area between Spital Street and Hythe Street given new life.
Under the program, piloted by Muse Developments, it was expected to deliver 120 new homes, a multi-screen cinema, a health and wellness center and a chain of restaurants and bars forming a new “cultural district”. .
The old Co-op building, unoccupied since 2007, was also due for a facelift to become a new 85-bed hotel.
But according to a report to be presented to Dartford Council Office this week, the development was scrapped after a “difficult business market” – first in response to prolonged Brexit uncertainty and then the Covid pandemic. -19 – made the program more financially viable.
This meant that without more funds from council coffers, the project would no longer meet the terms of the agreement reached with the developers.
Muse had suggested a revised project document, but despite the best efforts of both parties, even the most suitable proposal would still have required significant investment.
This involved an increase in the “scale and density” of development which the council could not accept, given the “traditional market town character” of the town.
Now Dartford Council is trying to acquire the ‘Co-op’ site from government housing agency Homes England.
A decision will take place at a cabinet meeting on Thursday where the authority proposes to authorize costs of £250,000, on top of the £1.4million already incurred, to secure the land and create a “programme led by housing “.
A council report read: “While the causes of uncertainty in the retail, hospitality, film and housing markets resulting from the pandemic are understood, the council should not have to accept a level undesirable residential density, height or scale as the cost of moving forward with the existing scheme.
“It is recognized that it is common private sector development practice to improve viability either by increasing the density of developments or by reducing costs through ‘value engineering’, but the council does not is not a private sector developer.
“It is his duty to deliver developments of appropriate scale, sensitivity, durability and high quality design when he is able to do so.”
The council wants to “save” the site and come up with “low impact proposals” that can deliver in today’s market and make a lasting contribution.
He says this will allow him to regenerate this part of the city and “act faster” on any future plans while avoiding unnecessary delays from outside business partners.
Council leader Jeremy Kite said there have been various changes throughout the pandemic that have impacted the project.
“For it to work, the thing had to get bigger and bigger, so we pulled the plug,” he explained.
“That should be extremely high and I think we felt that while commercial developers have to operate in a certain way, we as a board don’t have to.”
Despite the setback, Cllr Kite remains hopeful that the authority will still be able to deliver a “neighborhood-wide” project similar to the one before.
Although he conceded some aspects, like the proposed cinema, it was now unlikely to work.
Cllr Kite added: “I think people increasingly feel that developers are above them rather than with them.
“It’s an opportunity to work with the community to do something.”
The point will be debated before the opinion of the cabinet this evening May 23 before being submitted to the vote of the cabinet on Thursday May 26 at 7 p.m.