Plans to repurpose the Guildhall building as part of a redevelopment project in central Kingston continue to divide opinion months after they were announced.
Kingston Council (RBK) conceded previously that it could not financially support the existing status quo of maintaining the building as a key hub of its operations.
Consequently various options for its repurposing the space in order to bring in more money, such as opening a ’boutique hotel’ on site, were floated by the council leadership as they set out ideas for the coming redevelopment.
In an opinion column published in the Surrey Comet this week, Council Leader Caroline Kerr said their plans “very much align” with the results of a public consultation on the proposed redevelopment and said that the hotel option was “one of the most popular” choices among respondents regarding the future of Guildhall.
The consultation results have yet to be released in full, but a summary was published on p.77 of a document brought to the Response and Recovery Committee on May 13.
The council has an ambitious vision for the regeneration of Kingston Town Centre.
This will include redeveloping the Guildhall complex and the Guildhall itself, to create work spaces, homes, and public spaces for the benefit of everyone in the community. https://t.co/EqDx88pvTr pic.twitter.com/FLXbcxHOPN
— Kingston Council (@RBKingston) November 18, 2020
It showed that an overwhelming majority of respondents (78 per cent) wanted to maintain public access to the building, while an even greater 93 per cent asked that “it be kept for future generations.
Improvements to landscaping (93 per cent) and that it be made more sustainable (92 per cent), also received majority support.
The summary said that the two “most popular” options for how the Guildhall campus could be repurposed were as an events space (21 per cent) and a ‘boutique hotel and/or leisure’ (20 per cent).
However, other options received similar levels of backing, such as 17 per cent favouring offices or workspaces, 17 per cent for homes adapted for later living and 16 per cent for private and affordable homes.
Meanwhile a group of campaigners in the borough recently announced their opposition to the albeit vague proposals in their current form.
Dubbing themselves ‘Save Royal Kingston’, the group aim “to prevent the sale or divest of RBK’s publicly owned land and assets to private companies, partnerships or other organizations where the decision has not been subject to effective resident scrutiny and agreement.”
BREAKING: Save Royal Kingston Nominate the Guildhall as an Asset of Community Value
SRK is fighting to save the Guildhall from sale to a hotel group & has nominated the Guildhall as an asset of community value. If successful this will be the 1st stage in saving it for residents. pic.twitter.com/bSl3wKsxoC
— Save Royal Kingston (@kingston_save) May 17, 2021
Members recently have nominated Guildhall as an “Asset of Community Value” that if approved will deem the building “essential” to the community and social wellbeing of residents in the borough and therefore, they hope, unsuitable for the redevelopment proposals as they stand at present.
Those proposals also include plans to effectively knock down and rebuild a leisure centre complex on the site of the now closed Kingfisher Leisure Centre, and “creating a new public space” to celebrate the Hogsmill river that runs through Kingston town.
A number of Kingston residents and opposition councillors have also used social media platforms to express their misgivings about various aspects of the redevelopment plans.
— Kevin Davis (@kevinjdavis) May 18, 2021
Alluding to the consultation in her column, however, Cllr Kerr insisted most residents who responded supported the plans for the most part.
“With one of the most popular options for original Guildhall building being for it to offer a boutique hotel, our plans very much align with this feedback.
“Not only do we plan to pursue the option of a boutique hotel on the site, something that will provide much more public access to the building than is currently achieved, but we also propose to create a new public park and replace the energy-inefficient modern council buildings with new affordable homes and up-to-date offices,” the council leader wrote.
As the Surrey Comet reported previously, the plans were floated after news broke of RBK’s squeezed finances amid the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The opposition Conservatives on Kingston Council for their part have suggested the council leadership’s handling of the redevelopment was “flawed process” and saying the plans amounted to “selling off key assets in the Borough to save money on office costs”.