The future of a Northfleet shopping centre is under threat in the face of “crazy” council rent demands, a group of shopkeepers and residents has warned.

Tenants of The Hive shopping centre in the heart of the town are being asked to sign new leases to replace what the council calls the “exceptionally favourable terms” they had been paying.

The Kasbah charity supporting people with physical or learning disabilities has a shop and two offices at the centre just off the High Street.

Senior officer Sophie Aiken says the council issued new rent demands in January, before accusing the charity of trespassing as it continued to run its shop while paying a peppercorn rent.

She told News Shopper: “We are run by 30 volunteers and they have got very cross.

“The rent for the shop used to be free because we had the two offices but now we are having to pay £312 a month.

“People will move on and perhaps there will be empty offices and shops here.”

Ms Aiken says Kasbah agreed to start paying rent for the shop while an agreement can be reached over rents for the two offices, one of which the council wants to double and the other increase by a third, she says.

Northfleet Big Local representative and local resident Sue Ansarie has started a petition against the demands, which has received 180 signatures.

The 40-year-old said: “I think they thought we would just roll over and not do anything but that isn’t true.

News Shopper:

Left to right: Sue Ansarie, volunteer Ron Tiller and Kasbah senior officer Julie Appleby.

“It just seems a bit heavy-handed and harsh the way they have gone about things.”

Flack Tackle owner Simon Higgs, 42, called the row the “last straw” as he prepares to pack up and take his fishing shop to a new base in Forest Hill.

“Six months ago all the shops were happy and we had a nice little community but what has happened now with these demands is just crazy – it’s come from left field and it’s ridiculous.”

Gravesham Council leader John Burden defended the council’s plans to raise rents once tenant’s leases had expired.

He said: “The council is in discussion with most tenants at The Hive to bring their leases up to date.

“This is normal practice. Several units were let to two tenants on exceptionally favourable terms some years ago and each has been asked to sign new leases at an open market rent.

“That rent would be between £10 and £12 per day. The council thinks this is reasonable. The tenants are aware that they can discuss this with the council.

“The council has recently been actively marketing other vacant units in The Hive and there is commercial interest in those units for a range of retail and other facilities which will complement and strengthen the mix of uses at The Hive.

“This tends to demonstrate the potential to provide much needed services there.”