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Dartford town centre finally set for revamp after 11-year battle
WORK to transform Dartford town centre is finally set to begin next year after plans were given the nod.
Councillors last night approved proposals for the Tesco superstore, as well as new homes and a car park in Lowfield Street, which will bring 400 new jobs to the town.
It could finally spell the end of an 11-year battle between the supermarket giant and Dartford Council.
Hoardings are expected to be put up around the site in November and demolition work will begin in September next year.
Once building starts, the whole development is expected to take around 16 months to complete and will also include 107 homes and nearly 8,000 square metres of retail space.
Steve Akeju, the development manager, told those gathered inside the Dartford Civic Centre: “We are negotiating to buy the land we don’t own.
"If we are able to reach an early agreement with them we could be in a position much sooner than the end of 2014.
“But if we go through problems it could be February 2014 before we start building.”
The supermarket giant had a proposal for run-down Lowfield Street - likened by shopkeeper Ray Hussein to a “bombed out Beirut” - approved by the council last year.
But Tesco changed its mind and chose to re-nose the plans and a new application was submitted in July.
Ray Richardson, who runs Richardsons and Sons butchers, the oldest privately owned shop in the town and one of the few shops in the street not bought out by Tesco, voiced his objections to the plans during the meeting.
He said: “Most people agree Dartford is in urgent need of redevelopment .
“I’ve spent over £50,000 in solicitor fees and signed a contract with Tesco in good faith only for them to walk away.
“They need to make their decision – do the thing or get out of Dartford.”
Adam Williams, Tesco’s corporate affairs manager, moved to reassure Mr Richardson and other councillors’ concerns by saying the firm is “100 per cent committed” to the project.
He said: “We understand frustrations that things have not moved more quickly but we have an opportunity to draw a line and start building for the future.”
Osman and Ray Hussein outside their dry cleaning shop in Lowfield Street
This is the fourth application to be put before the council in the past 11 years and has been scaled down from more than 900 homes put forward in 2008 to 34 one-bed and 73 two-bed flats.
Six members of the public objected the proposal and several members of the council’s Development Control Board echoed their concerns about the height and the lack of detail on the appearance of the buildings.
However, members praised the idea to allow three hours of free parking without having to use the store and all 16 voted unanimously in favour of the application.
The computer generated image of the Tesco proposal
Labour spokesman and Stone ward councillor John Adams said: "We welcome Tesco's latest proposal and the Development Control Board's approval of it but we're also disappointed by the much reduced nature of the scheme."
"The proposed store is just a fraction of the size of the one they proposed as recently as November 2011 and the residential element is now very modest.
"This is the fourth plan that Tesco has submitted since 2003 and none have delivered any more than the dilapidation of Lowfield Street.
"Even now it's proving strangely difficult to get Tesco to commit to a start date and there's an understandable scepticism about whether this latest proposal will actually get built."
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