A major boost to the Kent economy could be given with an application to expand Bluewater shopping centre bringing up to 2,300 new jobs.
The move to expand the site by 20% has been hailed by Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce as a valuable source of employment.
But the planning proposals from Dartford Borough Council have sparked competition concerns from neighbouring Gravesham Borough Council, which has recently agreed significant enhancements to its retail facilities, unveiling plans for a £120million pound Heritage Quarter.
Backing the Bluewater plans, conservative leader of Dartford Borough Council, Jeremy Kite, said: “I support the application as helping give a lift to the economy of the area is something that is really important in times such as these.
“These plans means more than 2,000 jobs being created and I think the benefit of that over-rides any other interests relating to how some have said it competes with town centres. “I have a good relationship with Gravesham, but when they put in the application for its retail plans there a few years ago, they were not talking about Bluewater being a problem if it expanded, so that should not be the case now. The reason why it is growing is because that is where people want to shop – so they must be doing something right. “The idea that Bluewater wakes up every day and worries about competing with Gravesend is ludicrous. Its competition comes from large places like Lakeside.”
As part of the proposals from the site’s co-owners, Land Lease, the proposed extension to the West Village, there would be considerable enhancement to its present facilities.
Upon its opening in 1999, It was hailed as the largest shopping centre in Europe and its latest bid will increase its floor space by an additional 30,500 square metres.
This includes refurbishment and demolition of some of its existing buildings, remodeling of public realm and reconfigured car parking.
The centre, which presently employs around 7,500 people, nets around £240 million to the area’s economy.
In its development proposals, Bluewater consultants claimed there had been a loss of direction by the government in supporting wider plans for Thames Gateway regeneration and development funding for centres such as its own. According to a development statement, the expansion to the site could prove a valuable catalyst for wider regeneration.
It read: “These challenges (over the area’s regeneration) are also opportunities for the public and private sector to work together in new and innovative ways to bring about the regeneration and development with a local direction with the support of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the Kent Thames Gateway Partnership. This type of working has significant potential in North Kent.“