Cllr Mike Haywood: Where next for Sittingbourne town centre?

Labour Group Leader Mike Haywood.

Labour Group Leader Mike Haywood.

I recently attended Swale’s first Regeneration Conference at the Coniston Hotel. There was lots of talk about the future, but the most interesting things said were:

1. We need to tackle the High Street not just build a new cinema

2. We need a High Street with easy car parking that doesn’t cost the earth and will encourage people to keep coming back

3. With some leisure and other services as a reason for staying.

Cathedral Group are meant to be submitting a planning application later this year.

Interestingly, Richard Upton, the Chief Executive of Cathedral Group, said: “Sittingbourne is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken on!” It didn’t really fill me with confidence.

Their plans include a proposal for a 7 screen cinema on the Forum Car Park along with retail units. However, before that happens the Council is now having to pay for a multi-story car park to the tune of £1m-£3.5m (to attract a cinema operator) even though this wasn’t the original deal.

I’m sorry to say this, but it just doesn’t add up. Will a cinema in the town centre improve the High Street? We had three cinemas in the town in the 50s & 60s — at the height of their popularity when no one had a TV — but they didn’t last.

There’s been a welcome renaissance in the last 20 years, but I just don’t see how we are going to fill 7 screens most nights of the week. 

It’s so silly, and it brings into question everything else that’s being promised. At worse we could end up with just an ugly multi-story car park.

So, where do we stand? What are the Sittingbourne Labour Councillors doing for the town?

1. Firstly, we’ve given up waiting for something to be done. We think the High Street is key to improving the town. That’s why Roger Truelove, our County Councillor, has found funding to help do it up.

2. Secondly, we continue to call for concessions on our car parks to attract more people to come into town.

3. Thirdly, we are renewing our pressure on the Council to complete the Northern Relief Road. The local Tory Councillors put it on the back burner, but we simply don’t see the town centre working without it.

4. Fourth, we want a greater focus on Sittingbourne. We want to introduce proper town management — without which nothing will improve. But we’re not getting any support from the local Tories — some of whom live 150 miles away! The Willecombes of Woodstock!

5. And finally, we want to cut out waste at the Council — like the Inside Swale magazine and the £52k being spent just to televise our debates!

Cllr Mike Haywood

Leader of the Labour Councillors on Swale Borough Council

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