The multi-million pound redevelopment of Gravesend’s Heritage Quarter could be put back by another six months in a “potentially devastating” move.
Campaign group Urban Gravesham has taken a last minute decision to take Gravesham Council to the High Court over the £120 million scheme.
The group yesterday sought a judicial review of the decision to go ahead with the plans, which was taken at a contentious planning meeting in April last year.
Gravesham Council leader John Burden told News Shopper: “The effect on the scheme and the town is potentially devastating.
“We have to prove to stores like Marks and Spencer and other big stores that there is a future in this town but there seems to be opposition from Urban Gravesham to anything being done here.
“The review isn’t good news for the developers who were set to start in the autumn. All those homes and jobs are now on hold.
“The other really disappointing thing is the playing politics and the brinkmanship with Gravesham.
“To do it on the very last day and still not even have the good manners to tell the council – the brinkmanship involved in that is unacceptable.”
The proposed design for the Western Quarter.
The council heard through Heritage Quarter developers Edinburgh House yesterday that Urban Gravesham had lodged papers with the High Court.
It was the group’s final opportunity to do so at the end of the six week deadline following last month’s agreement on £6.6 million worth of Section 106 funding for the project.
Councillor Burden said: “The developer has spent so much money on trying to get this scheme to this stage they might decide, like M&S, that it isn’t worth investing in this town.
“They own the land and we can’t force them to develop it.
“I don’t know how long this delay will take and in the meantime the people of Gravesham will suffer.”
Over the next few weeks a judge will examine Urban Gravesham’s claim and decide whether it has merit.
The group claim planning officers promised councillors at April’s meeting that the regulatory board would take one last look at the decision to go ahead after the extra funding was agreed, but that did not happen.
A council spokesman said the authority is "entirely satisfied" it followed the correct procedures.
The three areas in Gravesend that are set to be revamped.
In the worst case scenario for the council the judge could rule it acted improperly and the scheme could be sent back for another planning committee vote – all of which could take another six months.
The news comes just days after Marks and Spencer announced plans to pull out of Gravesend by closing its store in New Road.
Coun Burden is meeting with representatives of the department store on Tuesday to try and persuade them to stay.
He said: “I have got to try and convince them that this town has a future.”
The Heritage Quarter plans would see the Eastern Quarter, Western Quarter and St Andrew’s Gardens redeveloped to provide 330 homes, a 50-bedroom hotel and dozens of new shops.
A spokesman for Edinburgh House said: “We only found out today (Friday) and it is frustrating and disappointing.
“That said it is very much a claim against the council from Urban Gravesham and it is for the council to defend.
“We are the applicants and an interested party and we have seen nothing untoward in the way Gravesham Council dealt with the application.
How the Eastern Quarter development would look.
“If a judge thinks there is not a case then we could be left to get on in just three months but if they believe there to be a case then it could be delayed for more than six months.
“We are confident the council was thorough and diligent in how they dealt with the planning process.
“There is nothing to suggest Urban Gravesham has a claim.”
But Gravesham MP Adam Holloway gave his firm backing to the civic group's move.
He told News Shopper: "I am very pleased to support it.
"The Heritage Quarter plans are of a shockingly low quality and they have no popular support it seems from anyone in Gravesham apart from the council and the council officers.
"The Eastern Quarter, with its minute, mechanically ventilated apartments, will be a blight and they will never build the Western Quarter because it's completely unviable.
"It's a shocker and thank God for Urban Gravesham for going in where the political class in this borough has failed miserably to do so."
An Urban Gravesham spokesman added: “Gravesham Council’s unelected planning officers appear to have lost all accountability for what is a very bad deal for the people of Gravesham.
“The judicial review means the High Court will be able to shine a light into some dark corners of the planning process in Gravesham.”