A developer has shut access to a public car park in Chatham just days after Medway Council revealed that it won't sell it for development.
Donard Living erected fencing around the former Buzz Bingo in the High Street, which it owns, on Monday this week (16 January).
It has left motorists with no access to Union Place car park next to it, owned by Medway Council.
The only access to the council-owned car park is through the Donard Living-owned Buzz Bingo site.
The move was made just days after Future Chatham revealed that Medway Council no longer intends to sell its car park for development.
Donard Living put forward plans to redevelop the former Buzz Bingo, including the council-owned car park, into 231 homes earlier this month.
The Belfast-based firm planned to buy the council-owned car park and it had therefore included it as part of the proposals.
However, after the council's shock U-turn axing plans to sell the 49-space car park, Donard Living coincidentally blocked access to it.
One local business that relies heavily on the council-owned car park has described the developer's actions as an "aggressive move".
Not-for-profit youth theatre Spotlites Theatre Company, which has neighboured the bingo hall for 26 years, says it is "deeply disappointed".
Kieron Riddell, director of Spotlites Theatre Company, said: "Unfortunately Donard Living provided us with no notice on this aggressive move, nor did they notify the council.
"During our meetings with Donard we have been informed that they wouldn’t look to start closing off access until the latter part of the year when expected development would begin, and that due to trying to help with the impact this would have on Spotlites they would continue to allow access for us during development until it was no longer viable."
Members of the theatre's session for adults with learning disabilities, which ran on Monday whilst the fencing was being put up, faced disruption due to the sudden closure of the car park, he added.
It's understood that access to Union Place car park was set to remain open until at least the latter half of this year, which is when Donard Living was hoping that development would begin.
Spotlites Theatre Company remains open as usual, but it has set up a fundraising campaign to secure the long-term future of its theatre.
Cllr Vince Maple, Chatham Central councillor and Medway Labour Group leader, also shared his disappointment about Donard Living's actions.
In a social media post he said: "Very disappointing to see just a week after the planning application has been submitted Donard Living blocking access to the Medway Council car park giving no notice to either the council or businesses.
"Not a good way to build community consensus for any planning application."
Medway Council is now aware that the developer has secured the Buzz Bingo site, preventing access to its car park.
A Medway Council spokesperson said: “We are liaising with the developer to see if access to the car park can be maintained.
"We will also be looking into the possibility of creating new access to the car park from New Road.”
It still currently has no plans to sell Union Place car park, the council added.
Donard Living bought the Buzz Bingo site for an undisclosed sum in December 2021 with its finance partner Zetland Capital.
Last year, Medway Council considered options such as negotiating with Donard Living to maintain long-term access to its car park or to sell it to them, according to a Freedom of Information request by Future Chatham.
Councillors were set to green light the closure of the car park at a Cabinet meeting on 18 October last year, allowing it to be sold off for development.
However, the decision was deferred until a future meeting and then the council confirmed that it no longer intended to sell the car park this month.
Update 18/01/23: Donard Living was approached for comment but responded following the release of this article.
A spokesperson for Donard Living said: “Now the outline planning application for the redevelopment of the former Buzz Bingo in Chatham is live, we are required by our insurers for both security and health and safety reasons to secure the site. This will enable our contractors to undertake the necessary technical surveys and monitoring required for development and planning process.
“The Council’s property team were notified 14 months ago of our intention to close access to the Buzz Bingo car park by email on 8 November 2021.
“The hoardings will make the site safe and secure, which is of particular importance given recent incidents of antisocial behaviour in the area.
“In relation to the situation of the sale of the car park, Donard’s management has not received a formal notification from the Council’s property team of its decision to no longer sell the car park and so we are unable to comment at this time.”