A community group has kick-started a consultation giving local people a say on the future of a large town centre site in Chatham.
Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum (ACNF) is hosting a series of workshops to shape a community-led plan for the future of the old GO Outdoors, Market Hall, which is currently HomePlus Furniture, and the multi-storey car park.
More than 150 local people have already attended events to have their say on the future of the town centre site, the freehold of which is owned by Medway Council.
Most of the site currently stands empty since GO Outdoors permanently closed in August last year, having previously been a purpose-built Tesco superstore that shut in April 2015.
The community group, which is made up of residents, businesses and organisations, and its consultants Create Streets say that ensuring young people’s voices are included in the future of the site is "key to this inclusive plan for Chatham’s centre".
It held a workshop for children aged between 5 and 15 at Luton Primary School in August this year, where they were tasked with drawing their interpretation of a ‘perfect street’.
Many of the produced images featured neighbourhoods that had plenty of street trees and more people walking and cycling than relying on cars.
Chatham’s young planners and designers also created a large masterplan for the site to voice their need for a more child-friendly town centre where they feel safe to move around and spend time outdoors.
People living and working in Medway are also being encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas for the future of the site by completing a quick, two-minute online survey, which has seen over 200 contributions so far.
An interactive map allowing people to pinpoint their experiences of wider Chatham town centre and make suggestions for improvements has also launched.
Jackson Fraser-Hague, secretary at Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum, said: “We as local people have an opportunity to play our part and shape a development which is vital for the success of Chatham and wider Medway.”
"This project... is about putting the pride and prosperity back into Chatham’s historic town centre. It has my full support."
The community-led plan has already gained widespread support, including the backing of Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham & Aylesford.
She said: "This is a really exciting project! Exactly what development should be: a community-led, people-oriented project to create beautiful and sustainable homes and places to work.
"This project has heart and is about putting the pride and prosperity back into Chatham’s historic town centre. It has my full support."
To help create the community-led plan, ACNF was awarded £50,000 from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in June this year.
The government funding will help the group to create a proposal for the site based on local people's ideas and experiences that emerge from the ongoing consultation.
The plan, known as a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO), will be among the first of its kind in the country since its introduction as a planning tool by the government in 2011.
The use of an NDO could grant outline planning permission for specified uses on the site, such as housing, commercial uses, or recreational uses.
Although the NDO does not necessarily mean that the group itself will pursue the development, it may promote greater certainty to both a potential developer and the local community.
To stay up-to-date on the community-led plan, find Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.