Thursday, 19 August 2010

Housing future for historic Sittingbourne mill site

Plans to build a new housing complex on an old mill site in Sittingbourne are under way but the nearby Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway will not be affected.

The M-Real site is subject to future planning development with the view to build housing, retail shops and other public uses on the currently unused land. Local Councillor for Swale Borough Council Roger Truelove believes the investment in the location could prove to be beneficial to the local area.

He said: "The use of the site seems to be very good. Shops and possibly a cinema in M-Real will create jobs, plus housing will attract a larger workforce to the Swale area and it will create a link between the existing town and the retail park".

The paper mill ended its papermaking operations in Sittingbourne in early 2007, and since then has been the target of development from numerous property companies. Five years ago the land around M-Real was bought by Tesco; however planning permission was delayed three times by Swale Borough Council. Planners said travel routes would have to be rerouted and the plan to build shops would not suit the local area, as 70 per cent of shopping by Sittingbourne people is done elsewhere.

Cllr Truelove claims nothing was achieved and the Council is looking to someone else other than Tesco.

He added: "To us it was a massive lost opportunity. The local public do not talk much about it but in our eyes the biggest thing lost was the further education college.

"We wanted to build a college to create a more active town because in Sittingbourne, all you see are the elderly and unemployed walking up and down the high street. Now that is not going to happen"

In recent years, plans to close the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway service have been regular, but new owners of the M-Real land have expressed a desire to keep the historic line for public benefit. The SKLR celebrates its 40th anniversary of public service this year and donations made by M-Real were made to ensure a longer future for the tourist and leisure activity. Cllr Truelove claims the starting point of the SKLR is needed to be built on, however the track will be extended further with the possibility of a new station near the local ASDA supermarket.

The Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway is not the only significant monument to be kept under the new development plans. Although the historic mill buildings cannot be saved, the new owners realise its place in history.

"The mill buildings had no listed buildings purpose so they will be getting demolished but the water tower may be kept as a memorial to M-Real" said Cllr Truelove.

"Also, the clock and the gateway to the landsite will be kept as a reminder of the thousands of people who worked there over the last decade"

Planning permission needs to be granted before building work can start but the demolition of the mill buildings has already begun.


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