The future regeneration of the town centre is at risk after Gravesham Borough Council’s second bid for £20 million from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund was rejected.
The money would have been used to help fund the development St George’s Square to create new community, retail and leisure spaces, a new Civic Centre, new theatre and new homes.
Reacting to the news, Cllr John Burden, Leader of Gravesham Borough Council, said:
“This is an extremely disappointing outcome and a blow to our ambitions to bring much needed regeneration and new life to Gravesend town centre.
“I am at a loss to understand the Government’s thinking here, especially when I look at the other areas of Kent that have been successful and the fact that for both funding rounds Gravesham was identified as a priority one area for Levelling Up, and yet here we are with nothing to show for it.
“When our first bid was unsuccessful, we were told we had missed out by the narrowest of margins.
“Huge amounts of work went into our second bid, and we had the support of significant bodies such as the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, Kent County Council, Kent and Medway Economic Partnership, the Thames Estuary Growth Board, and Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.
“Many local businesses wrote in support, and we had cross-party support within the council.
“They could all see the value of our bid and the desperate need for significant investment in Gravesend town centre.”
Cllr Burden added the decision became even more difficult to understand when the demographics of Pelham ward where the development is earmarked for were taken into consideration.
He added: “If the Levelling Up Fund is aimed at raising the standards of living of some of the most deprived areas of the country, then our bid meets that aim.
“Gravesend town centre has an unemployment rate of around 7% compared to the national rate of 4.5%; around 25% of adults living in the ward have no qualifications; childhood obesity stands at 26% against a national average of 20%; and 16.5% of children are from low-income families, compared to the national average of 15.6%.
“Added to that we have more than 1,000 households on our housing register and historically high numbers of families in temporary accommodation; there is a desperate need for quality new homes in the town centre.
“There are some very searching questions to be answered by Government as to why our bid was unsuccessful.
“We remain committed to the St George’s Square development as we know the economic and social benefits it will bring are vital for the town’s future.
“But we now have to go away and try to plan how we are going to tackle the huge social inequalities in the Borough without support from the Levelling Up Fund.”