New Community FM Radio Station Approved for Tunbridge Wells

The broadcasting regulator OFCOM has today approved the opening of a new community radio station serving Tunbridge Wells, Southborough and Tonbridge which will be easily accessible on all FM radios from next year.

The news delighted the dedicated volunteers at Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells who had  put in many hours of work over the past year into compiling the successful bid.

They had feared the coronavirus crisis would have put their efforts on hold, but the decision to give the green light to the West Kent Community Radio application went through just in time before OFCOM halted its approval process.


It is understood that OFCOM believes a vacant frequency is available in our area, although the actual frequency hasn’t been announced and it may depend on the final transmitter site. The provisional site was on high ground in Southborough enabling the signal to reach both Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

The station will be able to reach up to 100,000 listeners, providing a new forum for debating local issues and building links within the community.

In a message to volunteers, the station manager of Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells, Chris Manser (centre seated below) said: “The whole team are very excited to be able to transition our service on to your FM radios. At the same time, we will always retain the request programmes for patients in the local hospitals, as we have for some 59 years.”

HRTW team

Nigel Peacock (pictured seated left of picture above), who will manage the transition, said “The team have been waiting a long time to bring a local radio station to our towns and villages. We are delighted that true local radio will now return to the area”.

In its OFCOM proposal, the target audience was specified as the core towns of Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Southborough, Langton Green, Speldhurst, plus related neighbourhoods and villages.

West Kent Community Radio’s primary target audience will be the 45+ age group, and the main purpose of the service will be to improve the health and wellbeing of the station’s listeners through entertainment and information.


The station promises to play music from the sixties to the present day, with album tracks, classical, specialist and live music, biased towards a lighter style for our more mature audience.

The main types of speech output broadcast over the course of each week are planned to be: “News, information, features, advice, interviews and phone-ins, presented in a friendly and engaging way with content designed to encourage and promote good health and wellbeing.”

The new station will build on the existing service Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells, which has been serving local hospitals since 1961. You can listen over the internet on this link:


In a media release issued today, West Kent Community Radio said: “The new radio station has to work through a number of aspects with OFCOM over the next few months, as they prepare to start broadcasting. West Kent Community Radio will operate from the existing three studios and offices run by the hospital radio service, adding new facilities before the launch.”

“Around 60 volunteers are starting to prepare the transition to FM and others are expected to join the team as launch date approaches.

“Last year, the team ran an online survey to ask what locals wanted from a new local radio station. Over 450 people responded, and those views were critical in preparing the application. The station is expected to provide a range of programming and details will follow in due course.”

Southborough News has a full listing of existing FM stations audible in the area here:

And in July 2020 a full list of digital (DAB/DAB+) stations was added here:

Greg Clark returns as Local MP with 55% of Votes

The sitting local Conservative MP, Greg Clark, won his seat comfortably in the General Election, receiving 55% of the votes cast and telling local media he was “thrilled” to be re-elected and “would be representing the whole community for the next five years”.

Election 2019

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Ben Chapelard (second from left above at the count last night), achieved second place with 28 %.

Mr Chapelard added 10,139 votes for the Liberal Democrats compared with the previous General Election two years ago, but he was still 14,645 votes short of the Conservative tally.

The Liberal Democrats had fought an active campaign with the Green Party having stood down in the Tunbridge Wells constituency as part of a national electoral pact to promote the cause of remaining in the European Union.

This is the full result from this time:

DEC 2019 VOTE Party Votes %
 Greg Clark Con 30,119 55
 Ben Chapelard Lib Dem 15,474 28
 Antonio Weiss Labour 8,098 15
 Christopher Camp Independent 488 1
 Nigel Peacock Independent 471 1

Labour – which had been second in 2017 – dropped to third place, losing 6,293 votes compared with two years ago.

In a statement on twitter, Greg Clark said he was: “Honoured to be re-elected to serve the people of Tunbridge Wells, and grateful for the strong support of my constituents. Time now to put the divisions of the last few years behind us and move forward together.”

This was the result two years ago in Tunbridge Wells:

JUNE 2017 VOTE Party Votes %
 Greg Clark Con 30,856 57
 Charles Woodgate Labour 14,391 27
 Rachel Sadler Lib Dem 5,355 10
 Chris Hoare UKIP 1,464 3
 Trevor Bisdee Green 1,441 3
 Céline Thomas Women’s Equality 702 1

Turnout yesterday was 73% – almost exactly the same as two years ago. Despite the wet chilly weather on Thursday, 441 more people turned out to cast a valid vote in the December election than they did in the summer of 2017.

“Thousands of New Homes” Possible in Southborough if Local Plan isn’t Opposed

A local residents’ group has warned that a very large area – equivalent to 250 football pitches – between the A26 and Vauxhall Lane could be opened up to development if local people fail to object strongly enough to the Borough Council’s Local Plan.

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association submission seen by Southborough News states that the plan for new housing on site AL/SO 3 is “unacceptably vague and unclear” as it covers the whole of the mile long strip of Green Belt land that currently separates Southborough and Tonbridge.

Hangman 0.jpg

Serious concerns from Southborough Town Council about the plans were published on this blog on Sunday.   The official deadline is 5pm today for comments to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which is the planning authority.

HHRA have an email to obtain a word document template for public submissions in the format required by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Send an email to:

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association (HHRA) argues that the proposed allocation by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) of the site AL/SO 3 Land at Mabledon and Nightingale Farms is not adequate for a mixed-use scheme to include land-based economic development and approximately 50-120 residential dwellings.

HHRA told Southborough News its key objections were:

  • the lack of clarity in the Draft Local Plan documentation set regarding the proposal – confusion as to where the site is and what exactly it will entail;
  • the potential for inappropriate development in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Green Belt – as the site is in High Weald AONB, typically there need to be ‘exceptional’ circumstances to justify such ‘major development’, and in the view of HHRA no such ‘exceptional circumstances’ exist;
  • the increased traffic congestion on the A26 – the additional traffic from this proposed development will exacerbate the existing congestion and air quality issues on the section of the A26 near the site and in the nearby area; and
  • environmental and social impacts – including impact on ecology, biodiversity, and further strains on local amenities.

Hangman 2

A committee member of HHRA said: “We have been blown away by the support from the community in relation to voicing their concerns against the prospective allocation of this site, and have been very grateful for everyone’s efforts to contribute to the campaign, and within a very short space of time”.

A Facebook page has been set up to post the latest news:

The Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association argues that the Draft Local Plan just establishes that development in this protected landscape is acceptable to TWBC, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

Mabledon Farm v3

Other detailed arguments made by the Hangman’s Hill Residents’ Association include:

  • This site is a glorious strip of green space between the built-up areas of Southborough and Tonbridge.  There are views into the site from the A26, Vauxhall Lane, the Tunbridge Wells Circular Walk and public footpaths higher up the valley.  Conversion of the small number of heritage farm buildings into homes has already taken place within the site.
  • This is a very important area of biodiversity between the built-up areas of Southborough and Tonbridge.  It includes a designated Local Wildlife Site (TW50 Vauxhall Lane Woods), which provides a vital habitat for a variety of species (e.g. great crested newts (protected species), rare dormice, deer, hedgehogs, badgers, foxes and owls).  The gill woodlands and shaws provide important corridors, rich in biodiversity.  There are traditional orchards, now a rare habitat, and rare early purple orchids.

Hangman 1

  • It’s an area of relatively Dark Skies, only 2 and 3 levels higher than the darkest skies (CPRE Light Pollution and Dark Skies interactive map), an essential haven for nocturnal wildlife.
  • Away from the flood zones by the railway line, the topography and clay soil mean that the ground rapidly becomes waterlogged in periods of heavy rain due to run-off from the A26 and the network of underground streams and springs.  This is not ideal land for development and will be made worse by additional impermeable surfaces.

Plan to Replace Fields with New Housing Between Southborough and Tonbridge

Residents have just five days to give their verdict on a plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to transform many of the fields on “green belt” land between Tonbridge and Southborough into new housing.

The land in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) that is currently centred on the historic Mabledon Farm (see red circle below) and Nightingale Farm between the A26 and Vauxhall Lane has been identified by the Borough Council as suitable for a “mixed use” development of between 50 and 120 housing units.

Mabledon Farm v3.jpg

Mabledon Farm map

The mayor of Southborough, Councillor Alain Lewis (below) told Southborough News that the Town Council has expressed its concerns about the plan.  Cllr Lewis said: “We mess around with these things at our peril. It is a bit of a time capsule. Is a fine example of medieval countryside.”

Cllr Lewis continued: “If this development goes ahead, the potential is that we could end up building on the whole of the area. The A26 cannot sustain any more traffic – there are already too many cars on that road. Air quality is already poor along the A26.”

Alain Lewis new

In the Local Plan section on the land around Mabledon Farm, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council says: “The properties and the wider surrounding agricultural land are in a single ownership offering an opportunity to develop an exemplar scheme inspired by the underlying historical character of the High Weald.”

The Draft Plan continues: “Planning an enlarged settlement here that reflects the historical evolution of farmsteads, hamlets, and small villages, and which remains connected to the surrounding land and its management, has the potential to demonstrate a new sustainable approach to development in the High Weald, making strong and positive contributions to the objectives of the AONB Management Plan.”

In addition there is a plan to develop Mabledon House to the west of the A26, which is a listed Grade II mansion (see below) associated with Decimus Burton, who was an important figure in the evolution of Tunbridge Wells. The house is set within a Grade II Historic Park and Garden that includes pleasure grounds, a cottage garden, and a quarry, although it is shielded from the A26 currently by trees and currently little known to residents.

Mabledon House

The Local Plan says of Mabledon House: “The proposal for the whole site, which this policy supports, is for the development of a luxury hotel up to a maximum of 200 rooms and leisure development with spa and conference facilities, set within a restored historic park and garden and wider attractive landscape.”

For its latest Local Plan, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has been told by central government to build 13,500 dwellings by 2036. This could increase the population by a quarter, so  worsening further road congestion and resulting in significantly reduced green spaces.

The village of Capel and town of Paddock Wood are likely to be worst hit with 4,500 additional houses planned to replace productive farmland. Capel residents have been protesting outside Council meetings and in the town for the past year (see below)

Save Capel.jpg

Objectors need to contact Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by November 15th and refer to site AL/SO3 when discussing the Mabledon Farm proposal.

A local group, Hangman’s Hill Residents Association, has set up a Facebook page to post the latest news:

For more details on the pressure to build new housing on green belt land in the south east, here is a useful piece from the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Click here:

Meanwhile, the Conservative leader of Sevenoaks District Council, Peter Fleming, appears to be refusing to build all the housing central government has ordered.  Sevenoaks has promised only 9,410 new homes – almost 2,000 fewer than the 11,312 homes they have been told to build by 2035.

Secrets of Southborough Common Revealed

A strong turnout of around 50 local residents came out on Saturday for a hour long guided tour of the “Secrets of Southborough Common” led by Ian Johnstone (pictured below) of the Kent High Weald Partnership.

Ian J.jpg

The overcast weather didn’t deter residents, who were rewarded with insights into what the recent clearing of the common has revealed about the history of the land.

Ian Johnstone led residents to where a windmill once stood, the remains of a charcoal platform that may go back to medieval times, as well as a grove of Scots pine trees, known as “The Pineys”, which is thought to have been planted as a Victorian feature to soar above what was then mainly open heathland on the common.


The picture above shows the eager walkers setting off for the tour with most having been briefed with a display of information inside St Peter’s Church organised jointly by the Kent High Weald Partnership, Southborough Society and the archeology group, SHAAS.

A grant from the National Lottery is being spent in part on slowly clearing some of the holly and laurel that has overgrown what had been a much clearer outlook for Southborough Common in Victorian times (see below).


Common 2

The Southborough Society also has funds to digitise its extensive archive – a programme that is now in its advanced stages.

Ian Johnstone explained that the section of Southborough Common to the north west – known as Whortleberry Wood – was once isolated from the rest of the Common.  The trees in this area appear to be mainly beech, with some mature beeches appearing to be around 200 years old.

It is likely the beech trees were grown for timber or coppicing, so big ditches were dug all round this section to keep animals out. These are still visible today (see below) and there are also remains of rusted Victorian iron railings to be found next to the ditches in some places.


Whortleberry Wood was enclosed from the neighbouring pasture to prevent grazing animals from browsing on coppiced woodland. The enclosure dates from the early Medieval period (AD 410-1066). Whortleberry is another name for bilberry (or huckleberry) – a berry rich with Vitamin C – which grows well on the sandy sloping soils in the wood.

Maps were provided and Ian Johnstone declared that this was the largest turnout so far for his tour after expensive publicity in advance from the organising groups.


Ian Johnstone took the tour to one site where it is possible the horse fair was once held which featured in a famous painting (below) from 1857 called “An English Horse Fair on Southborough Common” by John Frederick Herring Snr.


The Kent High Weald Partnership have been carrying out management work of the common with the help of volunteers since 2012. Their website is:

The Southborough Society report on the event is at:



Greg Clark Will Be Conservative General Election Candidate

The current MP for Southborough and Tunbridge Wells Greg Clark has survived a selection meeting of his local party and will be the official Conservative candidate at the December 12th General Election.

Some Conservative members wanted Greg Clark (below) to be dropped after he lost his membership of the Conservative party in parliament following Mr Clark’s decision to support the opposition parties over the so-called Benn Act. The Benn Act was passed in September and scuppered Boris Johnson’s plan to leave the EU with or without a deal at the end of October.

Greg Clark.jpg

But Mr Clark was brought back into the party in the Commons in the last week which meant he was eligible to stand again as the local Conservative candidate.

He was endorsed at a meeting of the Tunbridge Wells Constituency Conservatives last night (Tuesday).

The Chairman of the local Conservative party, Joe Simmons, told Southborough News this morning that Greg Clark’s reselection was now “a done deal”.

Mr Clark is understood to have given assurances to local party members last night that he would fully support Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, with members concluding that “what is the past is in the past”.

But in the coming weeks, Brexit enthusiasts in Tunbridge Wells are likely to look for assurances that that Mr Clark’s support for the leadership’s policy would continue if he is re-elected and if the Conservatives take the UK out of the EU in January but UK-EU trade talks fail to come up with a tariff free agreement by December 2020 (after the transition), so risking a so-called “no deal” type departure again.

Mr Clark is known to believe in close EU-UK alignment of rules post-Brexit.

In a tweet published overnight, Greg Clark said it had been the the privilege and honour of his life to represent Tunbridge Wells since 2005 and he was extremely grateful to his Conservative Association for choosing him again as their candidate.

At the recent European elections in May the Conservative vote in Tunbridge Wells collapsed with the party ending up fourth with only 10 per cent of the vote behind the Greens.

The Brexit Party won most votes with 32 per cent in May. But this time the Liberal Democrats are likely to feel they have a strong chance, as Brexit supporters may well divide their votes more evenly between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party.


The Brexit Party has announced it will not be standing in any seats the Conservatives won in 2017, including Tunbridge Wells.

The Liberal Democrats came a close second in the European elections – also with 32 per cent.

Ben Chapelard

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Tunbridge Wells is Ben Chapelard (above), who’s chances will have been enhanced by the withdrawal of the Green candidate thanks to a pact between the Greens and the Lib Dems.

Labour’s candidate is Antonio Weiss (pictured below) – Labour came second in 2017.

Antonop Weiss.jpg

Nominations close at 4pm on 14th November.


The deadline for nominations has passed and there are 5 candidates. There are no UKIP or Brexit party candidates. But there are two independents in addition to Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat.

The two independent candidates are Christopher Camp and Nigel Peacock, who worked for many years in the radio industry in Kent.

Tunbridge Wells Council Tax Payers “Dodged a Bullet”

Just hours after Tunbridge Wells councillors dramatically defied their Conservative leadership and voted down plans to borrow £87million to build the Calverley Square project, central government dramatically increased the interest rate that the council would have had to pay had the scheme gone ahead.

David Hayward (pictured below), a councillor for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, told Southborough News that the community had “dodged a bullet”, as the borrowing costs of the Calverley scheme would have risen significantly so draining the Borough’s coffers still further.

Cllr Hayward v2

The Treasury announced on Wednesday that the Public Works Loan Board, which lends central government funds on to local authorities to deliver capital investment, had increased borrowing costs by a full 1% from a day earlier “to return them to 2018 levels.”

The Conservative Councillor in charge of the town’s Development, David Scott, had recently used the recent fall in market rates and therefore rates from borrowing from the Loan Board as a reason to advance the Calverley Square project.

The original 2.15 % interest rate (in place at the start of the week) would have meant a total of £ 115 million of interest or £ 2.3 million a year.  A 3.15 % interest rate (new rate) would have increased the borrowing cost to the council by around £ 1 million a year.

The following news report dramatically framed the change as: “Whitehall today threw a hand grenade into local authority borrowing plans.” For details see:

PWLB rate hike sends shockwaves through council finance sector


Meanwhile, the top leadership of the Council is under pressure to resign after their stunning defeat on Tuesday night. 12 Conservatives voted for the brand new theatre and offices, while 12 failed to support the plans on the night. Another 3 were absent.

Council leader Alan McDermott and Head of Development Projects, David Scott, are vulnerable having decided to fight on to progress the Calverley Scheme despite the heavy Conservative defeats at the hands of the voters in this year’s local elections.

Only 12 Conservatives voted in favour of the flagship plan:
Alan McDermott (Brenchley),
Jane March (Brenchley & Horsmonden),
Tom Dawlings (Benenden & Cranbrook),
Carol Mackonochie (Capel),
David Scott (Culverden),
Chris Woodward (Broadwater),
Barbara Cobbold (Broadwater),
Godfrey Bland (Hawkhurst & Sandhurst),
Sarah Hamilton (Paddock Wood East),
Matthew Bailey (Paddock Wood West),
Bob Backhouse (Sherwood),
Julia Soyke (Speldhurst & Bidborough)

3 Conservatives abstained in the vote on the scheme:
Barry Noakes (Goudhurst & Lamberhurst),
Elizabeth Thomas (Paddock Wood West),
Paul Barrington-King (Pembury)


9 Conservatives voted against the Calverley scheme:
Sean Holden (Benenden & Cranbrook),
Andy Fairweather (Frittenden & Sissinghurst),
Linda Hall (Goudhurst & Lamberhurst),
Beverley Palmer (Hawkhurst & Sandhurst),
Frank Williams (Sherwood),
Joe Simmons (Southborough North),
Julian Stanyer (Speldhurst & Bidborough),
Joy Podbury (Rusthall, Deputy Mayor of Borough),
James Scholes (Pantiles & St Mark’s, Mayor of Borough)

Absent Conservative councillors were:
Len Horwood (Pantiles & St Mark’s),
David Reilly (Pembury),
Patrick Thomson (Hawkhurst & Sandhurst)

All 8 Liberal Democrats on the Council voted against, as did the 5 Tunbridge Wells Alliance councillors, the 4 Labour councillors (3 represent Southborough & High Brooms), and one of the two independents (Rodney Atkins).  Councillor David Neve (Independent) abstained.

Civic Centre 1

The Calverley scheme would have delivered a new 1,200 seat theatre designed to support West End touring productions on the site of the existing Tunbridge Wells Great Hall car park. Money would also have been spent on new Borough Council offices and a replacement car park.

The demise of the £108million scheme had been predicted in an article on Southborough News in June.

Cllr Hayward from the Tunbridge Wells Alliance sits on the cross-party group set up by the council leadership that now has the job of looking at alternative options for the Town Hall and Assembly Hall. Cllr Hayward said he hopes the work of the committee can be expanded and made more transparent.

Town hall cu 2Cllr Hayward said he thought much lower cost estimates for updating both the Town Hall and the Assembly Hall would now be forthcoming from experts now that the Calverley Square scheme was off the table.

Reacting to the result of the historic vote on Tuesday night, the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party Chairman, Robert Chris, told Southborough News: “It was great to see reason finally prevail.”

The Tunbridge Wells Alliance party says it is now a permanent force in local politics even though the most important original cause of its existence is no longer happening.

Mr Chris said “I recall that in July 2017, I stood up at a council meeting waving a Hoopers press release (arguing that the Calverley project threatened their business) and said that the project was now effectively dead and the only open question was how long it would take for the penny to drop in the council.  We now know the answer to that question: it was just over two years for the council to realise that the project had no future.”

You can listen to the interview with Robert Chris by clicking on this link:

Meanwhile I also spoke to two Conservatives with differing views. Cllr Sean Holden who had always opposed Calverley told me it was right that the council had taken notice of the public.  Meanwhile, the head of Development for the Borough, David Scott, told me he was “somewhat disappointed obviously” and argued “we cannot afford another five years of stagnation.”

You can listen to both interviews with Cllrs Holden and Scott here one after the other:

Developing the Calverley Scheme had already cost Tunbridge Wells and Southborough council tax payers £ 11million.



Calverley Square Theatre Project Abandoned

The plan for council taxpayers of Southborough and Tunbridge Wells to spend £108 million on a new theatre and office project has been thrown out by councillors at a meeting tonight.

Two votes were taken and the current scheme was rejected by 27 votes to just 12 supporters. There were 4 abstentions.

This was a heavy defeat for the Conservative run leadership of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council who wanted to press on with the Calverley Square scheme despite losing seats in this year’s local election.


The Council leadership afterwards asked for the existing cross party working group to suggest a way forward.

The scheme would have built a new 1,200 seat theatre designed to support West End touring productions on the site of the existing Tunbridge Wells Great Hall car park.

Money would also have been spent on new Borough Council offices and a new replacement car park.

Earlier the Conservative in charge of the project David Scott had told the meeting that the £ 108 million scheme was “the best thing that could happen to this town.”

Cllr David Scott

Cllr Scott (pictured above) argued a new theatre would increase the number of shoppers in the town. He suggested economic benefits of £34 million a year or £1.7 billion over the life of the project.

Cllr Scott argued that the alternative of upgrading the Assembly Hall theatre would involve a 9 metre increase in the ceiling height to incorporate a fly tower.

Cllr Scott said “any alternative (to Calverley project) would end up costing more.”

But Southborough’s only Conservative Borough Councillor Joe Simmons (below) opposed the Calverley scheme arguing that there was no evidence that residents wanted it.

joe simm suit
Cllr Simmons said the scheme was “a huge financial commitment” and “a massive throw of the dice”.

Also opposing the scheme Bob Atwood – a former Conservative councillor – said the new theatre was not popular and “a flawed concept”.

Local resident Angela Funnell said the scheme was “mortgaging our childrens’ future away.” She said future generations would be crippled by a “massive debt”.  Angela Funnell said £108 million of debt plus interest payments would take the cost to £173 million. She said that was “an obscene amount of money.”

The scheme was supported by the principal conductor of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra who said the orchestra would be killed off if the Assembly Hall it used was shut for a four year refurbishment.

Cllr Sean Holden of the Conservatives opposed the scheme saying it would be a ” vampire” or “albatross around the neck of the council for decades”. His conclusion was greeted by the loudest cheer and applause from the public gallery to that point.

fullsizeoutput_202fCllr Holden (pictured above in right foreground) said he “didn’t go into politics to solve the ticket buying problems of middle-class theatre goers of Tunbridge Wells.”

Cllr Holden made his entire speech available to the press afterwards. See below:



Labour’s Hugo Pound said refurbishing the Assembly Hall was possible. Cllr Pound said “the public had been disrespected.”

Cllr Pound argued there were also big uncertainties about the funding. He said the hoped-for funding of £5 million from Kent County Council and £9 million from selling the existing civic complex were not guaranteed and without that cash there would need to be more borrowing.

Cllr James Rands of Liberal Democrats said “the basic numbers in the business case do not add up.” He said the new big theatre would not provide the affordable entertainment that the Assembly Hall does now and “No one really knows why we are doing this.”

Cllr Linda Hall of the Conservatives called herself a “fiscal Conservative.” She said “projects of this nature were best left to the private sector.”

Cllr Hall said the Conservatives would be “wiped out” at the next local election if they pressed on with the Calverley Square project. She said the “interest payments would absorb 20% of our annual council tax take” and money would be better spent on affordable housing.

By contrast, Conservative Cllr Jane March said the enhanced Assembly Hall was “not the right offer” and said the proposed Calverley scheme would benefit the community.

Cllr Tom Dawlings of the Conservatives said the council had a prudent funding scheme to pay for the new cultural and leisure facilities and “it was affordable”.

Cllr Christian Atwood spoke for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance which now has 6 councillors since it was formed to oppose the project. Cllr Atwood said there were alternatives that “did not chew up the listed park.”

The Council leader Conservative Cllr McDermott said there would be a long delay before any alternative plans could go forward.

Building of Southborough Hub Starts Soon Amid Concerns About the Cost

The contractors Baxall last week finally signed up to build the long delayed Southborough Hub but concerns remain about the future financial burden of the project on the town’s council tax payers.

Southborough residents will benefit from a new medical centre, football pavilion, hall and library. The Hub (design shown below) will be built from pre-fabricated panels imported from Germany, with a ceremony to mark the start of work expected in November.

Nov18 Hub Air

The Southborough Town Council Hub lead, Nick Blackwell (Labour) said: “The Hub will bring us a much-needed focus and heart for Southborough”. Meanwhile, Kent County Councillor, Peter Oakford, (Conservative and Southborough resident) called it “an absolutely fabulous movement forward.”

The scheme nearly collapsed during the summer after senior National Health Service managers reduced what they were prepared to pay in ground rent to occupy the new building, which will be on land owned by Southborough Town Council (shown below on left).

Hub Nov18 MedicThe Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, was involved in a crisis meeting with representatives from the three councils involved in the scheme on 31stJuly which helped to resolve the impasse.

The St Andrew’s Medical Centre are currently funded by the NHS to pay £60,000 per year rent to occupy their current building which is owned by former doctors who funded the surgery building in the 1970s.

Southborough Town Council had been expecting rent of £67,000 per year to house the St Andrew’s doctors, which would have been used to support the long term maintenance of the new two-story building (the area shaded in purple below). But over the summer the NHS announced such a level of rent was not ‘value for money for the public purse’ and offered only £20,000 a year.

New ground floor Feb19 v2When the NHS threatened to pull the plug on its £4.2 million contribution towards building and fit out costs of the Hub, the Town Council were forced to give up on their expected income.

After the intervention from Greg Clark, the two other councils involved in the scheme agreed to assist the Town Council with any major future costs (like replacing the roof) during the expected future life of the building of 63 years.

So called “letters of comfort” were provided by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Kent County Council. The NHS finally approved their investment in the scheme in August. The ground floor rooms in the new surgery are shown below:

New ground floor Feb19 drs

First floor rooms shown below:

New First floor doctors

In his briefing to the Town Council a week ago, Nick Blackwell stated: “This council has not yet agreed the Operations Management of the Hub despite the build being scheduled to start by the end of the year. This lack of forward planning now means that estimates of running costs are difficult to ascertain. Ideally this council would have committed to a position over a year ago.”

He continued: “We are also lacking a business case and there has been no attempt to realistically establish what the Service Charges might be for the users of the building”.

New First floor Rooms

Cllr Blackwell continued: “Our contract with Baxall has meant that cost increases to the project have been minimised but the uncertainty around Brexit has meant that that fluctuating exchange rate of sterling against the euro will impact on some parts of the project. We have been informed that these are well with the project contingencies.”

Cllr Blackwell refered to the “adverse financial position” that the council is now in. He said: “Some of these risks have to a small degree been minimised by the letters of comfort received from our partners at TWBC and KCC. There is also a small contribution for the first two years of the Hub opening from TWBC and KCC but these will in no way address the considerable financial outlay that that the Hub project has committed this council.”

Hub Nov18 T & MedicCllr Blackwell continued in his report to the Council: “All ongoing structural maintenance liabilities for the Community Medical Centre (CMC) will now be borne by this council for the 63 years of the lease on a flat £20,000 rent from the NHS which will quickly lose value.”

It is understood the unexpected loss in income from the rent from the doctors of £47,000pa represents about £6 per year for each Southborough adult (assuming a figure of 8,000 adults in the Town).

Over the summer Tanya Shaw, Business Manager at St Andrews Medical Centre, told the Times of Tunbridge Wells that she was ‘delighted’ on behalf of the surgery’s 9,000 patients that the scheme was going ahead. She said: “It has given us restored vigour and we are very much looking forward to developing new services we can put out to our patients.”

Hub Nov18 In Theat

The new hall (shown above) will be multi-purpose with retractable seats with the aim of accommodating a wider range of bookings than the Royal Victoria Hall Theatre that was demolished to make way for the scheme.

Cllr Blackwell (pictured below) told Southborough News this weekend: “We are extremely pleased that the Hub is finally progressing and that residents are seeing the investment in their town centre. It has been a long time aspiration for Southborough Town Council to see a community Hub.”

Cllr Blackwell new.jpg

He continued: “It has been contentious. The building will occupy the site of the much loved Royal Victoria Hall theatre and we have sacrificed precious green space in the centre of our town. Residents have grown weary of the delays and missed deadlines and the lack of financial transparency.”

Cllr Blackwell said: “We are working with a legacy of poor financial oversight which has led to a much reduced specification and we are dismayed that the long promised state-of the-art theatre has been not been realised.”

Hub Nov18 In LibrCllr Blackwell said: “We acknowledge that there is a great deal of work to be done in engaging the community. We need to ensure that local residents are listened to and feel a sense of ownership.  We want this to be a vibrant, well used building that does not become a burden to the taxpayers.”

Cllr Blackwell concluded: “The hard work still continues. We have started from scratch on a Business Case. And we will do everything we can for the residents of Southborough and High Brooms to ensure that this development pays its way.”

Tunbridge Wells Youth Football Club will get a new club house (shown below) thanks to funding of  £500,000 from Sport England, although the club members will have to pay for the internal fittings.

Hub Nov18 Soccer

The Hub is expected to be completed in Spring 2021.

The Hub plans and demolition of the old theatre were voted through by the previous Conservative administration that ran Southborough Town Council until Spring this year. There have been numerous previous articles on this blog about the scheme.

This is one example from one article in April 2017, where residents were given a pledge that their Council tax bill would not rise as a result of the Southborough Hub development.  See:

Cllr Peter Oakford (left in picture below) told the meeting in 2017 that: “The worst case scenario (for the theatre hire revenue) is based on 50 per cent of the revenue that used to be generated by the Royal Victoria Hall and – at that level – the facility – with what is coming in (in rent) from the doctors and the other areas – generates enough money that there will not need to be an increase in the precept for the Council tax.  Absolutely that’s what the numbers have said.”


Reaction to the first version of this article on Facebook was mixed.  One comment was: “Brilliant news! Can’t wait for it all to be finished, finally start modernising Southborough.”

But another contributor referred to the decision of the previous Conservative administration to reject efforts to restore the 100 year old Royal Victoria Hall in favour of a new-build scheme with no business plan and wrote: “The whole project is a gold-plated monument to sheer arrogance.”

Crunch Council Vote on Calverley Project Postponed

The plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to spend £108 million to build a new theatre complex remains in limbo after a full council meeting was unexpectedly adjourned at 9.30pm.

Having spent three hours discussing other issues, councillors decided there was insufficient time left to debate the Calverley project.

The public gallery and an overflow room were packed amid widespread anger that the Council leaders were pressing ahead with the plans despite clear evidence the scheme lacks public support.

The council will meet again on Tuesday 8th October to decide whether to go ahead and sign a contract with developers to build the complex.

The Calverley Square scheme (illustrated below) is due to be built on part of Calverley Grounds in the centre of the town.

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Earlier the councillor responsible for the scheme David Scott insisted that while the estimate of the cost of the Calverley scheme had recently gone up by £18 million that had been offset by lower borrowing costs.

Afterwards Councillor Scott said he hoped the project would be debated and approved at a special council meeting in the next 7 to 14 days. He told Southborough News the Calverley project was vital for the future prosperity of Tunbridge Wells.

You can listen here to the full 8 minute interview with Cllr Scott – the Conservative in charge of the project:


The scheme involves building a new 1,200 seat theatre designed to support West End touring productions on the site of the existing Great Hall car park.

The council would get new offices and a new 261 space underground car park would be built which would encroach 55 metres into the parkland of Calverley Grounds. 60 trees (some shown below) are due to be felled.

Calv Car ParkThe Alliance party was formed to stop the scheme and defeated the Conservative leader of the council in Borough elections earlier this year. The Alliance now has 6 councillors.

The vote on whether to go ahead was expected to be close. Two Alliance councillors were absent due to work commitments and one councillor Nick Pope is still unable to vote due to his wife’s interest in a nearby flat.

Alliance Chairman Robert Chris told Southborough News after the meeting that “the situation is a shambles.”

Earlier the meeting heard arguments from retailers in Tunbridge Wells who said they had been badly hit by the roadworks in the town centre which will lead to increased pedestrianisation.

The dissatisfied retailers included the owners of the Saltmarsh art shop, C and H Fabrics and Jeremy’s Home Store who said footfall was down by as much as 40%. The retailers said this had been “devastating”, the consultation wasn’t sufficient and the council had “no understanding of the vulnerability of the town centre.”