The highly divisive multi-million redevelopment of the former Mecca Bingo site in Ashford, Kent took a new twist this week after the corona lockdown has left a £4.5m gap in Ashford Borough Council's finance.
Plans were submitted in August 2018 to demolish the ex-bingo hall and cinema in the Kent town centre to make the way for homes, a pedestrian route as well as a number of bars and restaurants.
However, since then, there has been a battle to save the historic structure known locally as Odeon Square. Despite impassioned local efforts, campaigners failed to secure historic building status when Historic England refused to grant the Ashford Mecca Bingo building listed status in November 2019.
The building which was built in 1936, was seen as key to the rejuvenation of Ashford town centre. It is now one of a number of developments forced to be put on hold as council bosses “take stock”
Government Funding Not Enough
Government funding of £1.3 million to deal with the pressures from lost commercial income due to the coronavirus has been provided. However, there is still a considerable gap in the council's finance from all the lost revenues. It is estimated that a loss of parking income could itself total £1.2 million.
According to local sources, Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) the Deputy leader for Ashford Borough Council says pausing work on developments over the summer would be a sensible move, but he doesn't want to see a lengthy stoppage.
“My view is that we should send a very clear message that Ashford is still open for business,” he said.
“I think a pause is OK, but we need to be very careful that we don't harm our own chances in the future by pausing for too long.”
Whilst the delay in demolishing the former cinema building may offer a glimmer of light for local campaigners against the redevelopment, the pause seems temporary and 2020 should see the character-building demolished.