The strong feelings at last week’s first ever Southborough Town Meeting on the latest Hub plans have not yet prompted a major response on the Tunbridge Wells Planning Portal, where residents’ chance to place objections runs out on Wednesday.
Only 27 people had registered comments as of Monday afternoon.
Below is a 3 minute youtube video that gives a flavour of last week’s Town Meeting. Cllr Nick Blackwell speaks first, then Brian Dury, who chaired the meeting, then you hear the audio of residents’ comments, then there’s some film of people as they left the event.
One of the most outspoken contributions at last Tuesday’s public meeting was from Revd Rachel Wilson, who’s the priest at St Thomas’s Church in Pennington Rd, Southborough. Revd Wilson said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to be an enormous wasted opportunity…. it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”
The first ever Town Meeting in Southborough saw 180 people approve a motion arguing that trust had broken down between the community and Southborough Town Council and calling for the formation of a new advisory group to include theatre and other community groups.
The meeting was called under legislation that allows two Councillors to call such a gathering. Liberal Democrat Councillor, Trevor Poile, and Labour’s Nick Blackwell called the meeting, but it was not attended by any members of the ruling Conservative group on the Town Council.
I have now edited a 12 minute audio file of the highlights. There follows a transcript of the main comments in the order on the 12 minute highlights file.
Glenys Carsworth from Vicarage Road commented: “My principle concern is that it just looks so out of keeping with the local surrounding and it is a particularly unattractive building that I think will just be a blot on the landscape.”
Then a resident of Hythe Close, Helen Robinson, expressed concerns about the safety of the access road that runs into her garages. She objected to the current green boarding surrounding the Hub site that now blocks her view when trying to drive out from her garage. “How am I going to get in and out of the garage that I rent? And what about the safety of the young people that live in Hythe Close?”
Sue Pemberton from Doone Bray was the first to get widespread applause when she suggested that all the different functions of the building will clash. She said: “I can see the logic in a multi-use building…but there’s too many different functions in too small a space. You are going to have too many different managers trying to manage the theatre, the library, the dance classes, the surgery. All of the different functions are going to clash. Who is going to take priority? I think we’ll have utter chaos and in the end no one is going to want to use it and they will all go elsewhere.”
Linda Whiteleg said: “I actually live bang opposite this monstrosity. I thought it was going to be a lovely building. Now you are telling me it is going to be pre-fab. I was hoping it was going to be a beautiful theatre – updated – that everybody could use. But it has fewer seats (than the old theatre).” She also expressed safety concerns about the access road and the garages. Finally, she objected to the open plan library and said “there is no quiet place to just sit and look at that book any more?”
Robert Shaw from London Road said that because of the small size of the dressing rooms: “There’s going to be no dance schools using the theatre and no pantomime. You cannot run a theatre on that amount of seats. People always used to come to the pantomime in Southborough year in year out.” That prompted more applause.
Peter Maresh from Ruscombe Close asked: “Where is the project board and who are these three monsters?” Laughter ensued then the meeting organisers explained that the 3 member board was made up of Ian Kinghorn from Southborough Town Council, Mike Hill from Kent County Council and Lynne Weatherly from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Not one of them attended due to prior engagements.
This prompted further resident response: “I work in business and I do projects all the time. Who on earth has appointed this project board and who are they accountable to, because it doesn’t appear that they know what they are doing…How do you get rid of them? Because they are not doing their job. They are not project managing it. They are not taking account of the people who they are doing this for…what qualifications do they have to sit on that board and do a good job? Who checked them out to make sure they could do it?”
The question “How do we find out how much money they have wasted so far?” could not be answered because the finances of the project are still only known to the project board.
Revd Rachel Wilson from St Thomas’s Church in Southborough said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to me to be an enormous wasted opportunity. There could be so much good come out of this and I am particularly concerned about the cost implications as a member of the clergy and as a person who is reliant on social services and social care.”
Revd Wilson continued: “I am appalled by the idea that Kent County Council are spending this sort of money to the detriment of other things. I think it is appalling and as a member of the clergy we need to be aware of this sort of thing as well, because there is enormous potential for good and it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”
Richard Pepper said: “We are angry people….people are angry because there’s no one with any common sense running these shows. That’s what’s giving us all here – grief, because we have been users over the years of these facilities.”
Rebecca from Vale Rd said: “There’s so many faults with it. I’m just very very concerned that whatever our suggestions are, they won’t actually get heard or listened to because the people involved are not turning up to the meetings. Also if you’ve got a show in, what’s the height of the scene docks? I’m looking at a 90 degree angle to get the scenery from a lorry in. It’s ridiculous.”
Paul from Parkhouse Gardens said: “This whole thing beggars belief to be honest. The outside of the building looks architecturally uninspired. The inside of the building has far too many competing interests for it to be feasible or practical to use. I also have a point about flat roofs – they are a disaster long term…hopeless you know…they should be ditched and put sloping roofs instead. But I am very very concerned about the amount of money that’s been wasted already. Two years of wasted work.”
John who’s wife runs the Southborough School of Dance said: “Having listened to the architects during the last meeting at the library, the architects did not seem to know exactly the needs of those people who want to use the theatre. I think it would be a good idea to write to all these people who used the Royal Victoria Hall and ask what is it they need when they come to hire the hall.”
Michael Howes from Holden Road asked: “Cllr Blackwell and others seem to be very critical of this plan and I agree it is not perfect – but what is your alternative? And if it is more elaborate than this plan, how are you going to pay for it?”
Cllr Blackwell responded by saying the finances are still secret and so discussing alternatives is difficult. But he argued that the Hub could potentially be improved if the planned retail space became a bar and the library was retained on its current site and replaced in the Hub by bigger theatre changing rooms. He also said further consultation work was needed to see if theatre was still viable at all in Southborough.