So… All is changing in Sittingbourne, huge investment is on its way, the town is going to have a face lift, new Sittingbourne is on its way.
Only its not.
2008 was when this was all going to happen.
nearly 9 years on. We have a new supermarket. Oh and a Pizza Hut.
Sittingbourne is a paradox .
Firstly before we discuss what is wrong with Sittingbourne, lets look at the positives.
Sittingbourne is uniquely positioned geographically. 15 minutes drive North takes you to the beautiful blue flag beach of Minster on Sea. Even closer is the Elmly RSPB reserve and the wonderful shores of the unspoilt ( although they are trying ) Swale and its clear tidal waters brimming with sea life and rare birds. South of Sittingbourne and with in minutes you break into the sublime charm of the North Downs and the orchards and meadows that make this part of the country known as the Garden of England. Sittingbourne is served with some incredible schools including 2 Grammar schools, an award winning Special Educational Needs school. There is no major unemployment issues, with huge employers such as Morrisons distribution centre. 25 minutes drive along the A2 will take you to Bluewater shopping centre in one direction or Canterbury in the other. Sittingbourne sits on the cusp of amazing beaches, scenery, restaurants, castles, bars, galleries, shopping areas, World heritage sites and is 40 minutes from the Euro Tunnel or 1 hour from central London. House prices are reasonable, and transport is pretty good too.
Why is Sittingbourne not in the same league as towns in the Kent area? Why are there no decent facilities for young people, no cinema still, a swimming pool and sports facilities from the early 80s? Why is the high street still so run down?
What is the problem with Sittingbourne?
Where is the towns soul? What does Sittingbourne stand for? what does it represent? Think of Canterbury and you think of the Cathedral, the ancient street and vibrant night life and independent shops and attractions. think of maidstone and you think of an amazing shopping centre, parks, river walks. Faversham has developed the creekside area, making the town a thriving hub. The markets attract people from all around the south east. Even Rainham has more charm and Soul than Sittingbourne. Is Sittingbourne destined to be forever a commuters place to sleep and send the kids to school? Surely the hard working people of the ever growing town deserve better?
The best pub in Sittingbourne is probably the Weatherspoons, and resturants? Ummmmm….
Anti social behaviour is rife, especially from the young and disaffected youth. A nighttime walk down East Street is becoming a thing of dread.
Years ago I sat on a Think Tank set up by the council for ideas into the regeneration of the town. This was 2008! So many ideas, so much enthusiasm, nearly a decade has passed.
Still the town seems stuck in reverse.
What is the town lacking? How can it find a SOUL?
Well its not money. The council tax paying population of the town has grown substantially with the new estates which have developed around the town, with the only new school in the town, the prosperous area of Tunstall , but no other new schools, or civic amenities to cope with this. No new Theatre or Library. No new attractions or parks.
Basically the only new thing I have seen in our local park is dog poo bins.
Thats it, brave new Sittingbourne. New dog poo bins.
Wheres the imagination? Where is the vision? Where is the leadership ?
Yet it could be so different. Faversham developed the run down creek into a thriving part of the community. It holds regular festivals and events. Maidstone reinvented the high street shopping centre. What did Sittingbourne get? Poo bins and the promise of a new carpark.
We have a creek! its currently a mess. Huge retail units back onto it, and industrial units hide its reed beds and wildlife. There was an attempt to develop the creek when the northern relief road was built. But obviously someone got bored because that has ground to a halt.
It could be so different.
Open the creek up to leisure, a well maintained bridal path could take ramblers and the like out to the Swale, or along the track of the miniature railway. The abandoned oyster lakes ( bet you didn’t know we had those did you?) would make amazing water sports centres, teaching the kids to sail, or kayak, or windsurf in the shallow safety of the old oyster beds. The huge brick works could be relocated and the whole area North of Murston could become a hive of outdoor pursuits and leisure facilities. The dog track, football ground and go cart course are already out there. What a head start! instead I dare say a sea of commuter homes will be built, with no facilities and even less imagination.
Sittingbourne could be something really really special. Its about time the highly paid, unaccountable council of Swale started prioritising the goose that lays East Kents Golden eggs, and give the people of the town something to be proud of.
Sittingbourne needs a SOUL.