Kennington Community Council consults residents on the future of Bockhanger Square 
Kennington Community Council has opened a consultation in association with Ashford Borough Council (ABC) on what they would like to see happen to Bockhanger Square, a large open space in front of a parade of shops on Bybrook Road. The open space includes the site of the former Bockhanger Community Centre, demolished in 2019. 
The consultation runs until 27 February 2023 and is open to all residents in Kennington aged 13 and over. 
Residents are asked to rank their preference among 4 options so that the Community Council can judge which one to promote to ABC. The four options are: 
Option 1, a baseline of further minimal improvements to the site within planned budgets, with the Council asking ABC to preserve the site as an open space, as it appears in the Local Plan; 
Option 2, a high quality modular construction on the site of the old Centre of around 200m2, financed largely by the Community Council through reserves and a Public Works Board Loan repayable over 10 years. ABC is in the process of approving a contribution to the project from its regeneration budget of £100,000, if Options 1, 2 or 3 are pursued. The Community Council would pay site rent to ABC annually and would ask ABC to preserve the remainder of the site as an open space. Target opening date for Community Hub April is 2024. Repayments on the loan would be at an annual cost to the Council’s precept of £10 for a typical household in Kennington on the Band D Council Tax bracket. This would affect all Kennington residents which is why the consultation is not restricted to those in the close vicinity. 
Option 3, a high ceilinged hall of some 200m2 in a facility of 500-600m2; probably without affordable housing being included in the development. It might involve phased construction, with meeting rooms being added on at a later date. There are currently no budgets for the costs of £1.0-£1.5M or more. The Council would compete for a grant from the Government’s Youth Investment Fund of at least £1.25m. If this is not successful, development would likely be deferred for at least 5 years and the impact on Kennington’s Council Tax precept could be significantly higher than under Option 2. In the meantime, minor improvements envisaged in Option 1 would be implemented. 
Option 4, a 200m2 building with a terrace outside would be built of traditional construction within a housing development across the site. Capital costs would be met by ABC drawing on Government housing loans. The whole site would be developed. The Community Council would be charged rent for use of the facility but would not plan to take out a capital loan, meaning no repayments from the Kennington Community Council’s budget. 
The Council is keen to get maximum response from all residents, including teenagers from 13 years and upwards. Younger age groups should be the long-term users over their lifetime, so their attitudes are important. Previous surveys have drawn responses mainly from people aged 40 and over. 
Launching the consultation, Community Council Chair, Cllr Alan Cooper, in whose Bybrook Ward the Bockhanger site lies, said:  
“There are different views among councillors about which of the four options is the best but we are all agreed that we should present them to residents to allow them to take an informed judgement on which one they would like the Council to promote.  
“Each option has advantages and disadvantages and we want to make a balanced presentation. Brief details have gone out to all households in leaflets being delivered this week and there will be at least two public meetings, on 14 February and 22 February, where residents can find out more and discuss among themselves the trade-offs between the options. 
“Residents can respond by post, or by dropping off completed questionnaires at Dhanda Stores on Bockhanger Square. There is also an option to respond online as ABC has kindly given the Council access to its consultation portal.  
“Residents across Kennington need to recognise that at least one of the options will commit the Council to taking a loan and increasing its share of Council Tax in order to repay this. This is a requirement of the conditions for getting a loan.” 
The consultation comes after a petition in 2019 organised by ABC ward member Cllr Diccon Spain. This was followed by an assessment by residents of their needs in the local community. ABC identified an affordable housing-led development as its only source of funds for a community facility. 
A local group of residents expressed strong opposition to this proposal as they favoured a community facility retaining the open space around it. The Community Council has therefore worked to devise alternatives and will now find out which of these draws the greatest support from residents. 
Final decisions will be taken after the consultations and an assessment of affordability. Any development will also have to satisfy the planning process, including impacts on Stodmarsh. The parade of shops adjacent to the site is not involved in the consultation. 
Further information can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions available at the ABC Consultation Portal. 
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