£50m HQ plan scrapped thanks to pandemic – Kent Online

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

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 former Royal Mail sorting office in MaidstoneThe former Royal Mail sorting office in Maidstone
The former Royal Mail sorting office in Maidstone

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

But it emerged yesterday that the scheme has been discounted, with other options being considered, such as housing and shops instead. September 27

A Maidstone council spokesman said: “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.”

County Councillor Gary Cooke (Con) who represents the Maidstone South East division said he supported the decision to abandon the costly project.

Cllr Gary Cooke : Approves the decisionCllr Gary Cooke : Approves the decision
Cllr Gary Cooke : Approves the decision

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 can 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.

Sessions House - the current home of Kent County CouncilSessions House - the current home of Kent County Council
Sessions House – the current home of Kent County Council

Rental costs were expected to be similar to those at MBC’s current location in King Street, Maidstone, 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 now 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.”

Maidstone council's offices in King StreetMaidstone council's offices in King Street
Maidstone council’s offices in King Street

Further updates can be expected in the “coming weeks” over the next phase of the project, according to Maidstone council.

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