Plans unveiled for next phase of Gravesend town centre regeneration
Plans to create a new civic and cultural hub at the heart of Gravesend town centre have been unveiled by Gravesham Borough Council and development partners Reef Group.
The proposals for land around St George’s Church and West Street would see the creation of a new Civic Square, a new Civic Centre and a 500-seat theatre/cinema.
Also included are an 88-bedroom hotel, 7,000 sq ft of A1/A3 class commercial units, a new St George’s Church Hall, 155 residential units and a 250-space extension to the St George’s Centre car park.
It would be the second phase of the town centre redevelopment following on from The Charter, a development of 242 build-to-rent residential units on land to the east of Gravesend High Street. Work is due to start there in due course following its planning permission resolution in July.
Cllr John Burden, Leader of Gravesham Borough Council, welcomed the proposals. He said: “This is the most exciting phase of the long-awaited regeneration of Gravesend.
“St George’s Phase II will create a new heart for our town centre, moving it closer to the river and re-establishing its historic links with the Thames, which has played such an important role in our Borough’s history.
“In this post-COVID world, town centres across the UK face significant challenges over and above what were already facing them, while the way people work has changed almost overnight.
“These proposals, coupled with a number of residential developments around the town including The Charter, will help breathe new life into Gravesend. New offices and business space will drive daytime visitors, while residents living in new homes will boost the evening and night time economy.
“Our town centre cannot stand still and hope to survive.”
Reef Group plans to submit a detailed planning application for a new St George’s Church Hall and the public realm element of the proposals later this year, followed by the submission of a detailed application for the remainder of the scheme in 2021.
Phil Duckworth, Design Director at Reef Group, said: “We are excited to introduce these plans that we have been working on closely with Gravesham Borough Council.
“We have delivered our improvement works at St George’s Shopping Centre, and recently secured planning permission for The Charter.
“These plans introduce the final part of our wider, strategic town centre regeneration proposals and it is a great opportunity to deliver such a development in the town centre. We look forward to engaging and consulting with stakeholders to inform the proposals before we submit the planning application.”
Explaining the decision to include a new Civic Centre for Gravesham in the plans, Cllr John Burden said it was driven by the council’s belief in and support for the regeneration of the town centre and support for the local economy.
He said: “The new Civic Centre would place us at the heart of the town centre. This council is the biggest single employer in the central area of the town.
“With 200-300 employees based in the town at any one time, the vast majority of whom walk out into the town and spend money in local shops, cafes and restaurants during the course of the day, we are a key supporter of the economy in the immediate vicinity of our offices.
“Moving our offices closer to the main shopping areas of St George’s, New Road, the High Street, and Kings Street will see our local traders benefit from the increased footfall that brings to those areas.”
He added another key consideration in the proposed move was to help the council meet its pledge to achieve carbon neutral status by 2030.
He said: “The current Civic Centre was constructed in the mid-1960s and has a limited viable economic life remaining.
“To retrofit the building to help us meet our 2030 target for carbon neutrality would cost many millions of pounds, while there are also some concerns over the structural integrity of key parts of the building itself.
“It also provides the opportunity to bring a new 500-seat theatre to the town to replace The Woodville, which is dated and limited in its flexibility to stage modern productions.
“For a new Civic Centre to be a central component of the exciting redevelopment of the St George’s area demonstrates this council’s belief in, and support for, the regeneration of the town.”
The 500-seat theatre/cinema would adjoin this new Civic Centre in the same way The Woodville does at our current home. The publically accessible foyer to the building would be home to cafes and informal meeting spaces, and provide a walk through route from the new Civic Square to West Street, Town Pier and the river.
Cllr Burden added the desire was for the centre to be a true civic hub and the council was in positive conversations with public sector partners interested in moving to the new offices.
He said: “The new building would be designed to provide maximum flexible accommodation, allowing us to let varied amounts of space in a way that is not possible at the current Civic Centre.
“With an eye to new working practices post COVID19, it will also provide an opportunity for business incubator space and ‘rent-a-desk’ accommodation for small businesses and home workers who might like a change of scenery every now and then.”
Cllr Burden said the move to the new building would be funded by the sale for redevelopment of the current Civic Centre, which occupies a prime town centre brownfield site next to Gravesend station. Rental income from other occupiers and revenue from the new theatre and cafes would also contribute.
“The regeneration of Gravesend town centre has been a long time coming and has been an ambition of councils of various political leadership,” added Cllr Burden.
“These proposals present a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a new town centre, one that people will enjoy and be proud to call home for generations to come.”