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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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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.P1150568.JPG

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.

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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.

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Cllr 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:

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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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:
https://southborough-news.com/2017/04/25/pledge-that-southborough-hub-means-no-increase-in-council-tax-bills/

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.”

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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.”

Southborough’s Hottest Bank Holiday Art

The annual August Bank Holiday Art Show in aid of the Southborough Lions charity enjoyed three days of glorious sunshine this weekend as Monday temperatures hit 29 degrees centigrade.

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Among the exhibitors was Lyoubov Kimble (shown below with her art) who moved to Kent in 1995  from Kiev in Ukraine. She has been at the event every year for the past 14 years and described it as the “best weather” she has seen for the Bank Holiday exhibition.

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Lyoubov says some of her most intricate pictures can take a week to paint (see below).

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She has also featured on Ukraine TV and her painting below features the colours of the Ukraine flag – yellow and blue.

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The Art exhibition has free parking at Meadows School TN4 0RJ and is located opposite the Southborough cricket pitch on the A26.

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Meanwhile Steve Everest (pictured below) was proudly displaying his watercolours for the 20th consecutive year at the event.

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Steve agreed it was the best weather ever for the event. Holding up his picture of Hadlow Tower, Steve said: “It’s global warming isn’t it!”

P1150501.jpgSteve’s states his main to claim to fame is that his Great Great Uncle, Sir George Everest, was the Surveyor General of India and had Mount Everest named after him in 1865. Everest’s name was used as a compromise due to the difficulty of choosing between multiple local names for the mountain.

Meanwhile, it is not only the heat that is making Southborough’s residents feel they have been transported to the south of France. Thanks to the atmospheric conditions, various French radio stations are currently being received on standard FM receivers in the town.

The oldies music station “France Bleu” has been coming in clearly on 94.7 MHz from Lille’s powerful 400kW mast, which is almost double the power at the BBC’s most powerful sites like Wrotham which are listed at 250kW. “France Bleu” is also sometimes audible on 95.5 MHz from a Boulogne transmitter.

France Musique with classical sounds is on 88.7 and 89.4 MHz. Breakfast time tends to work best but the signal strength can change from hour to hour.

For a full list of FM stations audible in Southborough click here:
https://southborough-news.com/fm-radio/

New FM Radio Station Could Start Transmissions from Southborough in Two Years

A community radio station on FM for listeners in Southborough, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells should be hitting the airwaves in the next two years.

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

The likely transmitter site is a location in Southborough on the ridge between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

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The national broadcasting regulator, OFCOM, asked for bids to operate a FM station serving Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells to be submitted by March this year and the charity Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells (HRTW) was the only group in the area to submit a bid.

That bid is currently waiting in the OFCOM approval process, as the regulator’s staff scrutinise 35 bids for proposed stations all over the UK in the latest franchise round.

Existing FM stations audible in Southborough:
https://southborough-news.com/fm-radio/

HRTW’s membership Secretary, Tony Finn (pictured below), told Southborough News that OFCOM should announce if his group’s bid is approved any time between now and Christmas. They would then have two years to get on air on FM, but hope to achieve that goal sooner.

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Tony Finn said the key aim was to fill a large gap in coverage of local issues created as – over time – the local commercial stations have become bigger and bigger and less local.

Mr Finn said: “People locally need to know what’s going on and their representatives who are in important positions need to be held accountable, At the moment I don’t see that happening very much.”

HRTW

HRTW started in 1961 and now broadcasts 24 hours a day to local hospitals and over the Internet.  The service is provided by a team of around 40 dedicated volunteers. You can listen here:
http://bit.ly/2Y4fqVZ

Most shows are presented live every evening, with a sophisticated automated playout system used at other times, allowing presenters to set up music playlists and leave recorded announcements when the studios are unmanned. (See picture of playout computer below).  A live two minute international news bulletin is included from Sky every hour.

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The station’s current format is mainly music from the 1960s to the 1990s and requests from patients. If OFCOM accept the bid then the format will change to incorporate discussions of local events and issues.

The full detailed bid proposal is available on the web by searching on google for OFCOM and West Kent Radio.

Several other areas in the south east already have community stations such as Uckfield, which broadcasts on 105 FM.

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HRTW’s Tony Finn said: “We will be looking for people to volunteer to do all kinds of things from keeping the office open and answering phones to bookkeeping and people who understand advertising. We will need a broad range of skills, not just people to present the radio shows.”

The OFCOM rules severely limit income for community stations in case advertising revenue is diverted from bigger commercial operators. The station will only be able to earn £15,000 from sponsorship and adverts without any restrictions. After that level, any income from any source can be a maximum of 50% of the total, creating complex compliance issues.

The station will have to pay many thousands of pounds for transmitter equipment and transmitter running costs as well as continuing to pay the rent for its current premises near Tesco and next to Coral bookmakers in central Tunbridge Wells (See below).

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The station currently receives around 40 requests a week from patients.  NHS regulations require that they use a dedicated request collector visiting the Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury and Tonbridge Cottage Hospitals.

Tony Finn explained: “When we were based in the Kent and Sussex hospital we could just saunter along to a ward and collect requests from patients  You can’t do that any more and anyone collecting requests has to go through a security vetting process before they are authorised to enter the hospital and walk around the wards collecting requests.”

Mr Finn said: “HRTW member Rosemary Brooks has been through that validation process and she collects requests on a weekly basis for broadcast.”

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Tony Finn said that HRTW is presently ramping up a number of internal systems and processes in anticipation of becoming a community radio station. HRTW has also set up a new entity, West Kent Community Radio, as a Charitable Incorporated Institution (CIO) to allow it to become a community broadcast station.

Mr Finn explained: “In our application to OFCOM we have said we will continue to do requests shows but there will also be a mix of local, national and international news, local musicians will come in and there will be discussions and phone-ins on key issues like the Southborough Hub and the Tunbridge Wells Town Hall, involving local politicians and members of the public.”

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Mr Finn said that any community station will need to contribute to the wellbeing of the community. He said: “We want to encourage people get out and about and not be locked in their houses and isolated.  If you like, there will be a mental health wellness element to our proposed service.”

The station will be able to draw on relevant material from other community radio stations around the UK where appropriate but will have a very strong focus on providing local programming for local people.

Anyone interested in volunteering for either Hospital Radio Tunbridge Wells and/or the proposed community radio station should visit the Hospital Radio website at http://www.hrtw.org.uk/join/

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Nine of the existing HRTW team are pictured above.  In the front (left to right) are Nigel Peacock, Chris Manser and Tony Finn.  In the back row are Will Dunn, Claire Backhurst, Phil Kidby, Trevor Adams, Chris Makey and Phil Mills.

Cancellation of £90m Calverley Project Predicted “Within Two Months”

The controversial plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to take on large debts to build new council offices and a theatre stands a strong chance of being cancelled soon, despite last week’s inconclusive special council meeting.

The fate of the £90million project is now in the hands of a group of ten Conservative councillors who don’t want the scheme, including Sean Holden who told Southborough News after Monday’s votes that it was “understood” by the other 18 Conservatives on the Borough Council that the scheme “wouldn’t happen”.

The planned project (that also includes a new car park as well as the council offices and a theatre big enough to attract West End shows) would require the removal of at least 70 trees and a section of parkland on the existing Calverley Grounds (pictured below).

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Cllr Holden went along with the decision to pause – rather than cancel – the scheme at last Monday’s meeting. He said: “Being frank, some members of the Conservative Party  are committed to this: I think they need to be given time to come around to understanding that it can’t go on.”

Cllr Holden (pictured below) continued: “I hear what the people say and I’ve always known what the people think about this (project). I’ve never supported it. And now we have seen what they say and we have to take notice.”

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Cllr Holden welcomed the fact that talks with other parties on the council were planned and said: “What should come out of those talks is a cancellation of this operation. I have never voted for this project…and there are enough members of the Conservative group who take that view that it cannot go through.”

The special Council meeting was called after a slump in support for the Conservatives in the May Tunbridge Wells local election that went well beyond losses elsewhere in Kent.

Opponents feel the council would have to cut services to fund interest payments on the Calverley scheme’s debts and don’t want the historic park (below) diminished in size.

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Cllr Holden concluded the cancellation: “has to be done within the next two months because of contracts and so on. We want it to be quite quick. I certainly don’t want this to be a prevarication. I don’t want them to come back with a reworked revamped idea of it. I want to stop it and then look at what we might do in this town of Tunbridge Wells.”

The new Borough Council has 28 Conservatives and 20 opposition councillors. In the opposition are Lib Dems 9, Alliance 6, Labour 4 and Independent 1.

Meanwhile Cllr David Scott (pictured below), who is the Conservative in charge of the development in the Borough, told Southborough News that investors were now coming to Tunbridge Wells because “developers expect us to move the town forward.”

Cllr David Scott

Cllr Scott warned: “We have managed to persuade developers to come into the town. We are at risk of ending up with developers saying we have stopped the reason for them coming into Tunbridge Wells.”

Cllr Scott said all of the alternatives to the £90m project “cost money and will impact the town. There is no future for this town if we ignore this. I am more than happy to consider any alternative. The Assembly Hall is not viable for very much longer.”

Cllr Scott continued: “If we were to actually postpone this by a year it would cost an awful lot more money to do that. If the view of the council is that we need to spend an awful lot more money to postpone it for a year, then that will be the view of the council. The council may come up with a different view.”

Asked if the green spaces of the Calverley Grounds (shown below) were now safe Cllr Scott said: “I’m not going to come to any conclusion at this point. I want to see us move forward and make a cost effective decision. I would like to see it done fairly rapidly ..within months.”

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The noticeboard in the picture (above) includes this notice shown (below) that states that all the trees and shrubs behind the noticeboard would be lost.

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Cllr Scott made it clear he believes the current internal structure of the Town Hall was in such a poor state that it was “no longer fit for purpose” and needed to be rebuilt almost entirely behind the facade. He thought the protected council chamber could find an alternative use – perhaps a pub, using the example of the Opera House Weatherspoons.

Cllr Scott thought it might be feasible to attract a university to move in and pay to rebuild the Town Hall as a centre for learning.

However, a Southborough resident who listened into the meeting in an overspill room in the Town Hall rejected the idea that the existing building could no longer be used.

He supplied Southborough News with photos of the ornate plaster ceilings (below) that he said provided evidence the Tunbridge Wells Town Hall was a usable historic building and there was a strong case for council workers to stay in it, refurbishing where needed and sub-letting any rooms no longer needed.

Ceilings 1

Ceilings 2

The Southborough resident, Clive Davis, said: “These ceilings are beautiful and should be preserved for future generations. So many people do not realise what’s there until it’s gone.  The whole place should be listed.  It will never be replaced.  In fact I doubt the craftsmen are capable now of replacing it.”

The Alliance political group on the council,which was formed to stop the £90million Council borrowing, said it expects a new expert report called RIBA stage 4 will be published in July and show costs already exceeding the £90million budget.

The alliance’s Cllr David Hayward told Southborough News this would be the excuse the Conservative leadership would use to cancel the project. Cllr Hayward, who represents Pembury, is pictured below at last Monday’s meeting on the far right of the picture.

Calv Couuncil cu.jpg

Cllr Hayward said: “I am convinced that at the first opportunity they can to get out of it saving some face, they will.”

Cllr Hayward (below) argued that it would cost a lot less to refurbish the existing Assembly Hall theatre and Town Hall than the figure of £50million suggested by the Council leaders. He thought the Assembly Hall could be enlarged in a cost effective way with some extra space from the now empty police station next door, which the Council has already bid to purchase.

Cllr Hayward v2

Cllr Hayward said he wants a wider public consultation across the Borough on what to spend council money on to begin soon.

Listen to Conservative Cllr Sean Holden who has always opposed Calverley project and who now predicts its cancellation within two months:

Listen to the Conservative’s Cllr David Scott who is responsible for development in the town and doesn’t want the Calverley Project cancelled until an alternative is agreed:

In the council vote last Monday, 11 Conservatives voted against their own Conservative Council leader on Motion 3 which was proposed by the opposition and suggested major decisions on the project be referred to the full council, not just be decided by the Conservative run Council cabinet. The opposition motion carried by 30 votes from a mix of parties to 14 Conservatives.

The 11 Conservatives who rejected their leader’s advice and supported Motion 3 were:
Sean Holden (Benenden & Cranbrook),
Andy Fairweather (Frittenden & Sissinghurst),
Dr Linda Hall (Goudhurst & Lamberhurst),
Beverley Palmer (Hawkhurst & Sandhurst),
Patrick Thomson (Hawkhurst & Sandhurst),
Frank Williams (Sherwood),
Joe Simmons (Southborough North),
Julia Soyke (Speldhurst & Bidborough),
Julian Stanyer (Speldhurst & Bidborough)
Joy Podbury (Rusthall & Deputy Mayor),
James Scholes (Pantiles & Mayor of Borough)

The following 3 Conservatives did not attend the meeting:
Paul Barrington-King (Pembury),
Dr Ronen Basu (Culverden),
David Reilly (Pembury)

44 attended the meeting in Total. 19 of the opposition were there. Nick Pope of the Alliance was also there before the meeting began, but was forced to withdraw as his wife owns a flat overlooking Hoopers car park (that doesn’t overlook the park at all) but is affected by the Compulsory Purchase Order so could qualify for financial compensation for noise and dust disruption. Nick Pope was therefore told by council officials that he couldn’t vote on the issue he was elected on.

Conservatives Agree to Pause Calverley Square Theatre Plan

At a packed special meeting of the  Borough Council on Monday night it was agreed to stop all new spending on the planned Tunbridge Wells council offices and theatre.

There has been widespread public concern that the new civic centre would have led to the council into a heavy burden of debt.

Estimated borrowing would top £90million and the main Conservative backers of the plan lost their council seats at the recent local election.

Now the new Conservative leadership on the Borough Council has reflected on the election result and agreed a pause for consultation in the coming months.

Calv Couuncil.jpgA motion amended by the Conservative leadership at Monday’s meeting (shown above)  was approved by 24 votes to 20 which stated: “Cabinet be requested to stop all new expenditure on the Calverley Square project with immediate effect and to not enter into further commitments other than, with the involvement of all political parties and other relevant stakeholder groups, to manage an orderly consideration of all alternative proposals.”

The motion was supported by Southborough’s Conservative councillor Joe Simmons but opposed by Southborough’s 3 Labour members and one Lib Dem councillor who wanted a clearer halt to the scheme.

Leading Conservative Councillor Scott said he wanted a reevaluation of  all possible schemes but he argued the council did not have the “luxury” of not doing anything as he said £50 million needed to be spent on upgrading the existing theatre and council offices.

Councillor Scott said it was everybody’s job to come up with an answer and all of the options would cost money.

A further motion requesting the full council is consulted before any further key decisions are taken was passed by 30 votes to 14, even though it was opposed by the Conservative leader of the council.

This second vote saw around 10 Conservatives oppose their own leader, suggesting council policy remains in flux.

 

 

 

Diana Blackwell Elected to Lead Southborough Society with Renewed Focus on Younger Members

The Southborough Society has chosen Diana Blackwell as its new Chair, after she impressed members with her recent work on modernising the Society’s website and social media offerings.

The Society held its Annual General Meeting last Thursday (23rd May), which ended with the election of Diana Blackwell (pictured below), who has spent the last two years as the Society’s Planning Officer.

Diana Blackwell

Diana Blackwell explained to members that the new instagram account she created has already attracted over 300 followers in less than six months. She has also designed promotional material and created a new website to engage with a younger residents, which complements the Society’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Diana Blackwell told the meeting her background was in art and education and she has taught photography at a local secondary school for the last ten years. She has also stepped in to the role of the Society’s School Liaison Officer.

She continued: “As Chair, I can offer an abundance of enthusiasm for progressing the Society. I think it is important that the Society also appeals to younger members to ensure the Society remains vibrant and engaged with different generations.”

Coat 1.jpg

The new website has a blog that currently features Southborough’s coat of arms including this image (above) from the hand painted sign that used to sit above the old Council office entrance.

Diana Blackwell set out her priorities: “Moving forward, I’d like the Society to become more active; campaigning for a greener town, preserving our town’s heritage and engaging more effectively with local schools; building on the foundations that the hard working committee have already laid.”

Diana Blackwell concluded: “I believe the Society has achieved a great deal in its almost fifty years, but I think now is the time to re-evaluate how we see the Society going forwards and what we can do to ensure the Society continues to grow, be outward looking and relevant for the future.”

Crop Decimus

The meeting had begun with a engaging talk about Decimus Burton called “The Listening Architect” by Paul Avis, of the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, which detailed Decimus Burton’s work in Tunbridge Wells, Southborough and elsewhere.

Paul Avis stated that it could be argued that Decimus Burton’s success “lay in his humble approach to design – it is an approach that we are the richer for today….Some refused to compromise their approach to design, despite their clients’ needs and wishes. Decimus Burton, however, was somewhat unique in embracing different styles of architecture.”

Burton+image

The AGM heard that Southborough Society membership was static with 12 members departing and 11 joining, so the total membership stands at 318 members from 218 households, compared with 319 members from 217 households a year ago.

The Society also elected a new Treasurer.  Ian Kinghorn, who had been acting Chairman of the Society in recent months will remain on the Committee.  The Society is also strengthened with the return to the Committee of the experienced former Southborough Society Chair, Michael Howes.

The society’s new website is at:
https://southboroughsociety.org.uk/

The instagram account is:
https://www.instagram.com/southboroughsociety/

The twitter account is:

The Facebook Account is:
https://www.facebook.com/southboroughsociety/

 

 

Labour’s Alain Lewis is New Mayor of Southborough

Southborough Town Council met last week for the first time following May’s local elections and installed Cllr Alain Lewis from the Labour Party as the Town’s new Mayor and Chair of the Council.

Labour is now the largest single party on the Town Council, following the slump in support for the Conservatives as reported in the Southborough News article of May 3rd.

There are now 9 Labour, 6 Conservative and 3 Liberal Democrat members of the Town Council, which looks after local parks, Southborough Common and the cemetery. Planning and refuse are run by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Schools and Roads are in the control of Kent County Council.

Cllr Lewis (pictured below) was previously Deputy Mayor 4 years ago.

Alain Lewis new

Cllr Lewis told the “mayor making” Council meeting on 21st May that democracy was thriving in Southborough. He said: “At the recent elections voters clearly signalled that they want a change in the in the way our Council is run and operates.”

Cllr Lewis continued: “My view is that we must respect what residents are telling us. We are the servants of the people we represent, not expect them to be servants of their town council.”

And the new Mayor called on the Conservative run Borough and County Councils, who  therefore have 2 of the 3 votes in the Southborough Hub Project Board, to cooperate with the Town Council. Cllr Lewis said: “They need to support this council and enable us to carry out our mandate, rather than blocking our ideas at the Hub Project Board”.

The current proposed ground floor layout of the Southborough Hub is shown below:

New ground floor Feb19 v2Cllr Lewis concluded: “We must regain the trust of people who live in the town. We must be more transparent in the way we do business. We must listen more. We must do more to involve people in decision making. We must communicate better.”

Cllr Lewis asked that councillors work together on the following five big issues:

(1) We need to make sure that our finances are straight. We want the business plan for the Hub, details of land sales, and an informed forecast the impact of these on our local council taxes over the next few years.

(2) We need to make sure the Hub is fit for purpose. Despite the background of dispute about our new civic buildings we need to look forward and ensure they will meet the needs of the people who will be using them.

(3) We need to do more encourage involvement and contribution. Businesses, voluntary organisations, faith groups and individuals have a lot to offer to preserve and improve our town. Let’s make use of them.

(4) We need to address people’s concerns about roads and transport. Many of these are difficult issues but we could make some further progress on road safety and better transport links.

(5) We need to make our town greener! Climate change will be biggest issue for us all in the decades to come. Let’s do all we can to make our green contribution. Let’s plant trees, grow wild flowers, campaign against litter and do our bit to reducing the use of plastic.

Cllr Dianne Hill (pictured below) was elected as Deputy Mayor. She emphasised that the council covered High Brooms which has always been a distinctive community with its own proud history linked to the old brick and gas works.

Di wins

Cllr Hill said: “It is a community that doesn’t have public transport links to Southborough and as a consequence can sometimes feel apart from what is going on in our town and our town centre.”

Cllr Hill concluded: “We need to move on from the divisions we have seen develop over the last few years. Working together we can begin to enjoy again our work on this council and do things that encourage a sense of pride and achievement in our community.”

Cllr Hill emphasised the environmental issues: “We sit in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the High Weald but at the same time we are choked by pollution and blighted by gridlocked traffic. As a town council we can play our own small part in starting to address some of these problems and I would like to see us setting ourselves a goal of becoming a green town.”

Meanwhile, David Elliot is the new leader of the Conservative Group on the Council and Ian Kinghorn is his Deputy. Mr Elliot told Southborough News he did not give a speech as he felt it was not appropriate. All of the Conservative Group voted to approve the election of Cllr Alain Lewis as Town Mayor.

Cllr Elliot said: “It will be interesting being part of the Opposition minority for a change. I can’t always be on the winning side!”