Run-down ho­tel set to be­come high-end pub in £4m scheme

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - THE CROFT PLANS REVEALED - By Ge­or­gia Woolf [email protected]­m­group.co.uk

A pair of renowned restau­ra­teurs with a proven track record of turn­ing around ail­ing pubs plan to spend up to £4m trans­form­ing a for­mer ho­tel.

Hus­band-and-wife team Alex and He­len Bens­ley have bought The Croft Ho­tel in Can­ter­bury Road, Ken­ning­ton, and want to turn it into a coun­try pub spe­cial­is­ing in seafood.

The pair - who turned the nearby Golden Ball into The Old Mill in 2012 - sold five of their restau­rants to Shep­herd Neame for £11.9 mil­lion in 2016.

They have now turned their at­ten­tions to The Croft, with plans to re­model the ex­ist­ing build­ing into a cosy coun­try pub with open log fires and lo­cal ales and beers.

Mr Bens­ley said: “My vi­sion for The Croft is to pro­vide a ser­vice for the more af­flu­ent, busi­ness and ma­ture mar­ket, which is largely un­catered for in Ash­ford.

“Un­like the present and ex­pand­ing over abun­dance of na­tional eater­ies, we will of­fer a menu based around fresh lo­cal fish, shell­fish and farm pro­duce, with meat from Marchants of Bethers­den, as well as a su­per, fresh veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan menu.”

As well as up­dat­ing the ex­ist­ing build­ing, Mr Bens­ley has ap­plied to Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil (ABC) to also ex­tend the site.

If the scheme goes to plan, the pub could open in late au­tumn, cre­at­ing 75 jobs.

Mr Bens­ley - who paid £1.8m for the site once le­gal costs were taken into ac­count added: “Sub­ject to coun­cil ap­proval, the ex­ist­ing build­ing will be re­mod­elled sep­a­rately as a qual­ity and tra­di­tional Ken­tish and dog friendly coun­try pub, which will be cosy with open log fires, lo­cal ales and beers and a cel­lar of very good wines.

“There may be a bar menu, but it will not be a restau­rant just a good pub, with very comfy chairs.

“Sep­a­rately, the new part of the build­ing will con­sist of a huge kitchen, as all of the food will be pre­pared on site.

“There will be a ded­i­cated oys­ter and shell­fish bar, as well as a large din­ing room, con­sist­ing of booths, as well as free stand­ing, spa­cious ta­bles.”

An out­side seat­ing area on a heated ter­race is also planned, as well as bou­tique-style ac­com­mo­da­tion in lodges at the side of the for­mer ho­tel.

If ap­proved, 175 din­ers could be catered for, with 125 in the main restau­rant area and 50 in the bar area.

It would open from 11am to 11pm seven days a week, with a new car park pro­posed.

Last year, con­tro­ver­sial plans to de­mol­ish the ho­tel were turned down by the coun­cil.

De­vel­op­ers wanted to build nine four-bed­room homes on the site, but plan­ning of­fi­cers at ABC dis­missed the pro­posal, call­ing the ho­tel a “valu­able tourist fa­cil­ity” which should not be lost.

In 2016, Mr Bens­ley sold The Old Mill, the Oak on the Green and the Fish on the Green in Bearsted, the Che­quers on the Green in High Halden and the Swan and Dog in Great Chart to Shep­herd Neame.

He has pre­vi­ously trans­formed nu­mer­ous other pubs, in­clud­ing The Hooden Horse in Great Chart.

On the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted to ABC, Lynne Webb - who lives in Bethers­den - says she sup­ports the plan.

She said: “We are los­ing so many pub/restau­rants it would be a great as­set to Ash­ford to have a high-class pub, es­pe­cially in a re­fur­bished run-down ho­tel which was be­com­ing an eye-sore.

“Putting back in to use an old re­dun­dant build­ing giv­ing it new life is a fan­tas­tic idea.”

Dave Pater­son ,of Brabourne Lees, agreed, say­ing: “There has been con­cern for some time over the fate of The Croft so it is great news that the build­ing is to be re­ju­ve­nated.”

To view the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion, visit www.ash­ford. gov.uk and search for the 18/01709/AS ref­er­ence.

What do you think about the £4m coun­try pub plan? Write to Ken­tish Ex­press, Unit 4, Park Mall shop­ping cen­tre, Ash­ford, TN24 8RY or email ken­tish­ex­[email protected]­m­group. co.uk

Pic­ture: Andy Jones

The Croft Ho­tel is set to be trans­formed un­der new multi-mil­lion pound plans

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