As we all know over the past year many things have had to be put on hold. On the face of it, this may appear to be what has happened to our project to provide the parish with a new hall. We were all prepared 12 months ago to commission demolition contractors to start the next phase of the project in clearing the site, however due to the Covid pandemic this was halted.
In the interim a few of the important factors relating to the project have seen some major changes, which I outline below.
Just to recap however:
Everybody in the parish thought that we had agreed a deal to enable the old classroom block to be refurbished in exchange for the sale of most of the land to a local developer as part of a wider scheme. But, when this scheme was examined by independent bodies, it was deemed that there was sufficient concern over the viability, cost, loss of amenity and sustainability of the project, that in fact it presented an unacceptable risk to the parish to proceed.
Since then, further investigations have revealed a number of points which have to be overcome in order to proceed. Some will be aware that Maidstone Borough Council have in the past few months published their Town Centre Development Plan. When this plan was examined by officers working on behalf of the parish and diocese it was discovered that our site was not considered as part of the plan. This in turn throws up a question regarding the future use and development of the site.
Additionally, the question of affordability and sustainability of a new, or refurbished, parish centre has been examined. The independent reviewers have suggested that the only sensible way forward is to seek to develop the site in conjunction with a partner in a scheme that would be beneficial to both the parish and the local community. However, this again would require the consent and cooperation of the local council to be achieved.
A further factor that has come out whilst investigating the demolition possibilities is the consideration of the impact of the Listed Building (Grade II) status of the presbytery on any potential adjacent development of the site. This will all be subject to various planning permissions.
In the meantime, we the parish are left with an unsightly, unusable, dangerous and expensive building on our hands. Over the past year we have had to ensure the security of the building by installing and maintaining the fencing and window shutters to prevent intruders who had continually been getting in. Additionally we have also incurred the costs of the independent reviewers who have been acting on our behalf. In the last year the costs have amounted to a sum in the region of £20,000.
As we hopefully come out of the restrictions of the Covid pandemic, we are confident that a way forward, that is beyond the point we got to before, is not far away. Unlike previous schemes all of the appropriate documentation is now in order and provides a sound basis on which to proceed.
We remain as a parish committed to getting the best value, and sustainable, community resource for the future of the parish. Your support is greatly appreciated as we tackle what seems at times to be a never ending task, even if at times it appears nothing is happening, except the continuing collection of donations towards this project.
If you have any questions, or would like some more clarification, please get in touch with either Fr Liam or Deacon Ian, who will try to help. Thank you.