Lloyds Bank Southborough: Closure Seems Inevitable

Lloyds Bank will go ahead with the closure of its Southborough branch at the end of July, despite a week of public concern about the decision.

Many customers have already sent letters of protest about the loss of the town’s last bank branch, but a spokesman for Lloyds Bank told this blog on Friday that the decision still stands. And staff at the branch have been telling customers that such closure announcements are final after they have been made by the regional head office.

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A spokesperson for Lloyds Bank told “Southborough News” on Friday:

“The Southborough branch will close on 28th July. We have made the difficult decision to close this branch because of the changing way customers choose to bank with us, which has resulted in customers using it less often. Customers can continue to use any other branch in our network and the local Post Office is a short distance away, where customers can manage their day-to-day banking needs. We apologise for any inconvenience that these changes may cause, and have informed customers of the closest alternative branch which is in Tunbridge Wells.”

Lloyds Bank is under pressure to improve profitability, so the government can sell its remaining 10 per cent stake to the maximum benefit of the taxpayer. The bank reported underlying quarterly profits of £ 2.05 billion this week, with the share price 13 per cent down on the year.

During the financial crisis, the UK government encouraged Lloyds to take over the collapsing Halifax-Bank of Scotland group (HBOS), but then taxpayers had to take a 43 per cent stake in Lloyds to keep Lloyds afloat.

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The Bank provided “Southborough News” with the following “Background Information”:

* The number of personal customers using the Southborough branch is going down each year by 24%.

* The branch has only 41 regular weekly personal and business customers.

* 72% of our personal customers in Southborough use other branches and other ways to bank such as online and telephone banking.

* 88% of our personal customers already use other branches, such as Tunbridge Wells branch.

* The Post Office is just 0.1 miles away and we will be proactively talking to customers about the service they offer. There are also good public transport links to the alternative branch.

* The nearest free to use ATM is just 0.03 miles away.

* Customers will have their accounts realigned to Tunbridge Wells which is under 2 miles away, and there will be no other impact to the way they manage their accounts.

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The Lloyds Bank statement on Friday 29th April continued:

“In October 2014 we announced the Group’s three year strategy, which outlined a programme of planned branch closures to reflect the changing behaviour of our customers. The way customers interact with their bank has changed over recent years, with more customers choosing to do their banking online. This has seen a reduction in customers using branches.

“While the decision to close the branch is a difficult one, it is based on falling customer numbers. Between now and the closure date, we will engage with all of our customers, local businesses and the wider local community to make sure they are aware of the alternative ways of accessing their banking with us in the local area, and to answer any questions they might have”.

It is thought the Southborough bank staff will be offered alternative jobs in nearby branches.

Here are two earlier articles on the Southborough branch closure in other media:

http://www.courier.co.uk/Lloyds-Bank-Southborough-close/story-29193721-detail/story.html

http://www.cityam.com/239366/lloyds-poised-to-axe-hundreds-of-uk-jobs

 

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Town Council says its “Intention” is to Preserve Remaining Ridgewaye Fields

The annual Southborough Town Meeting  on Tuesday was told of new efforts to stop future housing development on the Ridgewaye Fields after the Hub is complete.

A key figure in promoting the Hub project, Peter Oakford, a Conservative who sits on the Town, Borough and County Councils, said:  “The lawyers have been instructed to develop a programme that can be brought back to Southborough Town Council for discussion that will put legal protection on those fields.”

P1090668Mr Oakford continued: “Provided the lawyers tell us there’s something we can do, it will be done.”

During public questions, Ian Gavin, a local resident who is an expert in third world development projects, strongly criticised what he called a “grotesquely manipulated” Council consultation on demolishing the Royal Victoria Hall.

Mr Gavin told the meeting: “I work in international development and I conduct many surveys and community consultations, including a £ 25 million programme from the British government, and I don’t think I have ever seen quite such a manipulated survey as this one.”

Mr Gavin continued:“11,000 people said they wanted to keep the Hall –  3,000 from this area – and the consultation gave them a choice of knocking it down or partially knocking it down. It’s utterly meaningless…. They weren’t given the chance to say “can they keep the hall”.”

The Town’s mayor, Glenn Lester, responded by saying: “Southborough Town Council always works pro-actively for its community…we are looking to bring forward new facilities in Southborough because it is financially sustainable to do so”.

Glenn Lester continued: “When the options came forward with everything we were offering, most of the people that came to the consultation were in favour of having a new build, because they could see what was on offer”.

The full time Kent County Council official leading the project, Jonathan White, said : “The consultation did give them the “Option 1”, did give them “Option 2”, did give them the option of “other” and stating what they wanted in there, and we looked very carefully at what that other was.”

When Jonathan White, was asked what exactly the promised new “State of the Art” theatre would include, he said it hadn’t been decided.

He told the meeting: “Depending on the amount of income that we get coming in, there is a shopping list of “nice to haves” and we can upgrade the lighting and the sound etc etc depending on how the finances go ultimately.”

Councillor Peter Oakford was also asked about his past public commitment to a new theatre that was “State of the Art”.  Mr Oakford said: “We are developing a brand new theatre.  All the equipment will be state of the art and we certainly hope that it will be the envy of all the towns around us. That has always been our wish and we have worked with a theatre consultant that knows what they are doing in order to develop that.”

Project officer Jonathan White also confirmed the doctor’s surgery was moving forward with becoming part of the site and that the housing had increased from 55 to 62 residential units. He said he was in discussions with three retailers about taking the retail space and the whole build would take 18 months.

Resident Diana Blackwell asked if the whole project had a fully costed business plan.

Jonathan White responded: “It does depend on the final design that’s made, so – if we are changing things – then it’s pointless writing a business plan that you then change, so when the design is finalised we will then start to bring forward a business plan.”

Mr White continued: “There’s also decisions that need to be made by Southborough Town Council about whether or not they would allow a Trust to run the facility. If they do that, they can avoid business rates going forward. So those decisions will also impact on the business plan.”

Jonathan White said traffic impact assessments were being made and they had not shown so far that there would be a critical impact on the Yew Tree Road junction.

That prompted a blunt response from Duncan Oakley, who said: “As a resident of over 50 years, I can assure you there are issues already.”

The mayor, Glenn Lester, was asked how Southborough town centre could be smartened up.

Mr Lester said: “I would love Southborough High Street to look a lot more tidy and clean and decorated and fantastic. The trouble is that in the past – having council offices that have looked derelict and the Tesco’s site has been derelict, it has been very hard for us to get involved with local business and say to them let’s pick up our game a bit and improve our environment for everybody”.

Mr Lester continued: “I’m hoping our hub and bringing new things forward in Southborough High Street will enable us to inspire and get other business owners and other premises owners in the High Street to shame them a little bit and get them to improve their properties. If we lead from the front, it’s the best way forward.”

Around 50 residents attended the 2016 Town meeting, which lasted an hour and a half.

Here are my audio recordings of the Town Meeting in three sections:

Labour Supporters Ask for More Protection for Remaining Ridgewaye Fields

The annual Town Meeting – that’s for the people of Southborough to let our council know what they think – is coming up in the next 24 hours.

It is on Tuesday at 7 pm at the Crundwell Road Community Centre, TN4 0LL.

I have received a statement reacting to Glenn Lester’s interview from Martin Betts, who is a spokesperson for the Southborough and High Brooms Labour Party.

It raises various new points about the plans for the new Southborough Hub, so we are publishing Martin Betts’ comments in full below.  He suggests:

  • more housing units are to be built than originally planned
  • retail units will be included in the development
  • the remaining Ridgewaye fields may not be permanently safeguarded

We plan to attend the Town Meeting and hope to reflect any new developments and responses from the council in another blog on Tuesday night.

Labour Group statement:

“I would like to correct the Town Mayor’s assertion that the Labour Party ran on a Royal Victoria Hall (RVH) ‘retention manifesto’ last May. This is incorrect. The Labour Party fought the election arguing for less secrecy, more public involvement, and a proper consultation to find out what people wanted for their new town centre.

The Labour Party believed that the Friends of the RVH – who raised a petition of over 10,000 signatures to retain the historic building – had an argument that should have been treated with respect. Their voice was compelling because there was NO public pressure on the other side to partially or completely demolish the Hall in favour of a new build. There were some Labour candidates who voiced a view that they would personally like to keep a refurbished and modernised RVH but overriding this was to hear what people who lived in the town wanted.

There is no doubt that the whole of the Hub Project has been shrouded in secrecy. Many council meetings on the subject were – and still are – being held with members of the public excluded on spurious commercial grounds. Proper communication and attempts to really involve people living in the town in shaping their town centre has been almost non-existent. The public consultation was asked for and was welcome but it was almost certainly never going to have a large response rate. It was held over the Christmas and New Year period when people’s minds were going to be elsewhere and at times when it was difficult for working people to attend.

The Labour Party did leaflet people living in the town to remind them of the consultation but it was obvious that those who wanted to keep a refurbished RVH were not going to get any joy. That option was not on the table. As we know, the two options on offer were demolition or partial demolition of the RVH in favour of a new build. By this time the Labour Party took the view that if people wanted to retain some part of our town heritage they should be urged to opt for option 2. Of the options it would have ensured that we retained part of our legacy in a modern context. And there are plenty of examples in the country where this has been done to good effect.

However, that discussion is now history. On the basis of the consultation where less than 2% of the town’s residents responded the 3 councils involved have decided to go for the demolition and new build. However, what the councils have yet to demonstrate is that they have taken on board the serious issues that people raised. There was considerable concern about the overly modernist architecture being proposed and requests that it should fit in with other buildings in the town. There were also concerns about overbuilding of houses and flats on the part of the playing fields give over to the Hub; serious worries about more congestion on Yew Tree and London Roads; and real apprehension about increased air pollution from traffic fumes.

We have yet to hear from the councils about what exactly they have changed in response to the consultation. What we do know is that they are now wanting to INCREASE the number of houses and flats which will inevitably further increase pressures on traffic flow, parking and pollution. What they are also saying is that they want to include some retail units in the scheme despite this hardly being mentioned in the consultation and no public demand for them. The Labour Party doesn’t know what world the three councils are living in but it is not one where businesses are clamouring to take on small shop units, particularly in Southborough.

What we are also hearing is that the town council is now moving away from the idea of permanently protecting the remaining playing fields from more development. They are being advised that they should keep their options open in case further houses are needed in the future. The Labour Party would not be surprised about this because Conservative controlled Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is selling off virtually every piece of spare green land it owns for building. They wanted to sell off part of the playing field at the bottom of Southview Road for house building, but this was stopped in the nick of time by a successful campaign by residents to have it designated as a village green.

Although the Town Mayor was keen to draw attention to promises made by the Labour Party in its election campaign last year there were Conservative promises that we haven’t heard much of lately. There were the promises to submit a planning application last summer with the prospect of building starting last November and a grand opening of the Hub in time for this year’s Pantomime. These promises were clearly undeliverable and we are pleased that the councils took Labour’s advice and put the project on a more realistic timescale.

However this is one BIG promise they made. Peter Oakford, the then Chairman of Southborough Town Council, said the town would get a “new Royal Victoria Hall which will include a theatre that will be the envy of many other towns. It will have the most up-to-date facilities and be an asset for local people for years to come”. Conservatives also promised a “state-of-the art stage, sound and lighting facilities and better facilities for the audience”. We understand that theatre experts are really sceptical about the ability of the councils to deliver on this promise. However, Labour is sure that the promise was made in good faith and expects it to be delivered in full for a town that has a proud theatre history.

We have now reached a crucial period in the Hub timetable since the councils are aiming to get a planning application to the borough council by the end of May. Residents in the town have an opportunity to have a further say before this happens by attending the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday 19 April at 7 pm at the Crundwell Road Community Centre. They will also have an opportunity to comment later on the Planning Application.”

Refurbishing the Existing Theatre is Cheaper Option, Insists “Save RVH” Campaign

After publishing my interview with the Mayor of Southborough, Glenn Lester, I’ve obtained a response from one person who was active in last year’s campaign to persuade the Council not to demolish the hundred year old theatre, the Royal Victoria Hall.

He’s Ken Hampton, who is a professional production sound engineer for theatres in the London West End and around the world.  He worked with others to help maintain the Royal Victoria Hall for many years and supervised the sound for the Southborough pantomime there for the past 12 years.

Here is the audio recording of my interview with Ken Hampton:

Ken Hampton argues the insurance claim after the “finger trapping” incident should not have caused the hall to close, as the council had been offered for free 400 safe plastic seats.  These seats were in use for the last pantomime.   I talked to him on Friday 15 April, 2016.

Q: You have heard the mayor Glenn Lester say he’s looked at the details and he’s convinced that the old Royal Victoria Hall is no longer adaptable in the modern world.  Do you agree?

Ken Hampton: I work personally in multiple venues that are well over 120 years old.  The Royal Victoria Hall is only about that old. From my understanding – from colleagues who work in the consultancy profession –  generally when a building is structurally sound (which I believe from the reports the Royal Victoria Hall is structurally sound although it does need work) the option to refurbish is always cheaper than to build new.

Q: Those plastic seats that were used for the last pantomime are not ideal for the long term, so do you agree that what the hall needs is new retractable seating?

Ken Hampton: If you want to have the hall for both theatrical performances and parties, then retractable seating is the fastest way of going about that.  The venue – as it stands – doesn’t easily permit retractable seating to go in because of the height of the balcony.  However, there are solutions to that which are that 2 or 3 rows of seats could be put on each level of retractable seats, so it could be still run under the balcony.  Or alternatively, as a larger plan for a refurbishment of the building, the building could go down a couple of metres so the existing floor could be removed, dug down and you would have enough height to put a retractable seating system in.

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Q: Digging down two metres sounds difficult within an existing building, you think that wouldn’t be too costly?

Ken Hampton: I don’t know about cost, but I certainly know that people do it plenty of times. The Victoria Hall has been there for 110 years so far, I would imagine that it could manage another 50 years if it is looked after and cared for.  I do wonder if a cheaply built modern building will last 50 years even.

RVH

Q: As council tax payers, what we are interested in is this building thriving in the future, having lots of productions and bringing in money for the council and not a drain on the council, so how do you think the council has gone about keeping theatre people on board?

Ken Hampton: To my knowledge there has been no communication between the theatre production side since April of last year.  You would have thought at this stage they should be engaging the previous users of the Victoria Hall as presumably they would become the new users of the new build.

Q: Glenn Lester’s view is that this is the verdict of the electorate – they were given the option of voting Labour at the last election a year ago which definitely wanted to retain the Royal Victoria Hall.  He said people didn’t vote that way.  The Conservatives won instead.  So he’s convinced that the vast majority of people in Southborough have given up on the old building and don’t want it to be retained and are happy with these new designs. Is he right?

Ken Hampton: I was a little bit confused by Glenn’s comments.  I hadn’t realised that the Conservative manifesto was only suggesting that it should knock down the Victoria Hall and build new.  From what I recall from the leaflets, they were saying they had both options on the table and whichever one was commercially viable would be the one that they would elect to go for.  However, I was unaware that it would only be knock down if we voted Conservative. The people I know are all saying they would prefer to see the Victorian building as the centre of our town.

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Q: What Glenn Lester believes is that there’s a lot to be gained from putting all these facilities together.  You’ve got the doctor’s surgery, you’ve got the theatre and you’ve got the library in a sort of hallway that leads to both of them.  What do you think of the concept of having these buildings altogether under one roof?

Ken Hampton: I’m not convinced with the concept of having the medical centre along with what are normally considered recreational facilities of the theatre and the library.  It doesn’t seem to make sense.  You tend to go to the doctors specifically for an ailment, you tend to go to the theatre because you are having a good evening out and I don’t see that the two necessarily live side by side.

Currently the library is shown as a large circular space in an atrium and the toilets are provided on the opposite side of the library to the theatre, so I would have to question how we get 250 children out of the pantomime matinee performance through the library while people are trying to read their books and actually in and out of the toilets without annoying the people in the library.

Q:  Glenn also promises that this new 300 seat theatre to replace the old one will be of better quality.  So what are the things that he needs to come up with to fulfil his promise of making it a better theatre than what we had before.

Ken Hampton:  There are problems in that the plans that we’ve seen so far don’t have enough height in the grid section above the stage which allows us to fly scenery properly.  There’s a lack of an orchestra pit within the building.  Currently the Royal Victoria Hall has a small orchestra pit.  There is no provision for that in the new build.  There’s a lack of dressing room space. Currently, in the new plans there is less dressing room space than what we have in the current building.

The facilities at the moment have 3 small dressing rooms downstairs and one large room upstairs.  Typically for the pantomime there are 24-28 people in the cast of a show including the dancers and therefore we need that number to be catered for as an absolute minimum.  The dance shows that exist from some of the local dance schools will have probably a cast of well over 100 children and therefore we need to be able to accommodate that if we want the building to be used in the way it needs to be used.

Q:  What about catering facilities so people could have wedding receptions and that sort of thing.  There are no facilities on site at the moment, would there be in the new building as far as you know?

Ken Hampton:  There’s no facilities on site currently and from what I can see within the new option there is only café /bar facilities.  Whether that would include the sort of kitchens that would be needed for wedding reception events? There’s nothing that shows that on the current plans.

Listen to Mayor’s interview on the Hub

Below you will find the full transcript of our 20 minute interview with the Mayor of Southborough, Glenn Lester.

Has he reassured you that the new buildings will not look ugly, the library will have as many books and staff as now, and that the windfall cash from selling part of the Ridgewaye fields is being well spent?  Do you agree that people voted for the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall in last May’s election? Are you overjoyed that action to smarten up Southborough is at last in hand after 20 years of stalemate?  Will we end up with a new and vibrant “heart” to our community?

I have finally found a way of uploading all the sound, if you prefer to listen:

Even after 20 minutes, lots of areas were left uncovered in our interview.  Indeed we need to wait until the Planning Application to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is published in late May 2016, to know what is really set to be built.  We intend to post a range of reactions to those detailed plans when we have them.

In the meantime, if you want to contribute any feedback on the interview to us, just email:

martin.webber10536@gmail.com

You can also make your feelings known by attending:

Tuesday 19th April 2016 7.00pm Southborough Town Meeting in the Community Centre Crundwell Road

Thursday 19th May 2016 8.00pm Southborough Society AGM at Christ Church Hall

Martin Webber & Anya Heilpern

Glenn 4: Modern Design & Traffic

Interview with Glenn Lester, Mayor of Southborough, recorded on Friday 8th April 2016

Q: And a lot of people – maybe not so interested in the Royal Victoria Hall – will have agreed with all those aspirations – but wondered why the design (obviously we don’t know the final design because that will be in the planning document) but the draft drawings did look incredibly modern and not necessarily in keeping with the surrounding Victorian buildings on the London Road. Would it not have been possible to leave the existing façade of the council buildings and nod more to the past and yet still build all the new things behind it, without having a very modern looking design, why did you go for that?

A: This is my personal view and everybody will have a different view. Yes we’ve got a High Street of Victorian buildings but Southborough High Street is an eclectic mix of buildings. We have got Hythe Close to the left hand side that was built in the 1940s or 50s, which is a high rise brick building. We’ve got Victorian buildings opposite. I’m passionate about architecture. I’ve worked in construction all my life. I love buildings. I really do. I feel that if we do mock Victorian or mock Georgian, it always ends up looking a muddle because we cannot perform the lines and the styles of those days because modern times building regulations have changed, heat insulation – all of those things have changed. The building needs to function well as the building it is and I feel personally that a modern building – if you look at the Shard at St Thomas’s Street in London – looks absolutely fantastic because it is a modern architectural structure of its day, mixed in with architecture from the Georgian period of its day. So this is of our day and this is for our children to use in the future. I want a modern facility that is smart, well designed and works and functions properly.

Jason old RVH

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Q: A town square was mentioned as part of it. Again, the actual drawings at the consultation were fairly vague, will there be an area near the cafe, ideally people with young children having an area of grass for them to leave their children to run about a bit while they have a cup of coffee separated from the main road, will there be a “People’s town square” as part of the design?

A: One of the main driving factors right from day one was to improve the connection between the High Street and the playing fields and the open spaces, so the new hub design has got open spaces incorporated within it. We are trying to open up that vista so that, as you go through the High Street, you are not in a “tunnel effect” of buildings. The road will be the same width, but the vista will open up as you get to that part of the High Street, you will have tall buildings on your right, you will be able to look to your left and that will be a more open style square space there. The final detail of that is still yet to come forward, but it will have an open and airy feel.

Q: A lot of people have raised the issue of traffic congestion and whether the new housing will make the existing congestion on the A26 even worse?

A: It’s always a tricky one. We’ve got a road structure that is Victorian. It struggles at best and Kent County Council Highways have just invested a huge amount of money on the junctions with Yew Tree Road and Speldhurst Road to improve the flow of traffic through there. I think with our hub, we may actually benefit from slightly reduced traffic flows because maybe the people of Southborough won’t always need to travel into Tunbridge Wells and won’t always need to travel into Tonbridge to enable them to do their basic functions which can now happen within Southborough so – fingers crossed – we may even have brought forward a scheme that will reduce the traffic, rather than increase it.

Hub Plans

Q: The doctor’s surgery – the existing facilities are overcrowded. The A26 has a lot of pollution from it. The initial design was to have the new doctor’s surgery right next to the A26. If you have got a child with asthma or breathing difficulties, is that a concern for them?

A: What we have done is moved the doctor’s surgery to the back, because we have had huge consultation with the planners and they want the frontage to be more active. The doctor’s surgery isn’t an active frontage so the theatre would have a higher active frontage to it. So the two boxes have been switched over. So, as it stands at the moment, the doctor’s surgery is at the back. There will be no more traffic flow, hopefully. The amount of patients going through the door will probably change very little between the new surgery and the old surgery and that traffic already enters off the A26 via Pinewood Gardens. Hopefully, our improvements will take the traffic more quickly through the High Street, down Yew Tree Road and into the doctor’s surgery and so I think – to be honest – the traffic congestion with regards to the doctors is going to be equal at the end of the day. Hopefully most people will find it a nice easy level walk to the doctor’s surgery and most of the housing is on a level plane in Southbrough to the doctor’s surgery, unless of course you are in High Brooms, so hopefully we will be bringing improvements forward that will hopefully enable more footfall to that doctors rather than it being vehicular.

Q: And for the people who come up from High Brooms and perhaps have to have a taxi – will there be parking for them?

There is new parking. There is considerable extension to the Yew Tree Road car park which is vastly underused at the moment. There is two hours free there. Most doctor’s surgery appointments are probably 20 minutes, so you can park freely in Yew Tree Road car park. It will be a nice level access from there to the doctor’s surgery, so I think it will be better for them because the doctors are really cramped with parking where they are at the moment. So there will probably be a massive improvement. I must say I would like to see an improved bus service between High Brooms and Southborough. I must admit I see very few buses go all the way up Yew Tree Road. Most of them tend to stop in High Brooms and loop and go back and most of the ones in Soutborough are along the A26. There is a relatively poor supply of bus transport I feel between High Brooms and Southborough High Street which I am hoping we can improve that in the years to come.

Glenn 3: Demolishing the Royal Victoria Hall

Interview with Glenn Lester, Mayor of Southborough, recorded on Friday 8th April 2016

Q: Now a lot of strong feeling was evident about the Royal Victoria Hall because it is the first municipally funded theatre. It is more than 100 years old. There are lots of old pictures which connect us to the past about it. And there were several thousand people apparently who signed a petition saying they wanted to keep it. You had the consultation over Christmas. 287 Southborough residents responded, which doesn’t seem that many – it is only 2 per cent of the 12,000 residents, are you really confident that you have found out what most people in Southborough want by deciding to go ahead and demolish the old building?

A: I must admit, I am completely confident. Being involved with the designs of this building over the last 18 months or two years or even longer than that, the constraints of the existing building were so that it was almost impossible for us to economically redevelop that building and provide what we need. We’ve always known that we needed 300-350 seats in the theatre. To get new seating within the Victoria Hall box as it is with fold away seating – we may have also lost the balcony. So it wasn’t just about a head strong approach to having a new build, it was very much about ticking boxes and making sure that what we brought forward was going to provide future-proof services for Southborough into the future.

Q: But just looking at the building of the Royal Victoria Hall, now obviously some old buildings are structurally unsound or the wiring is prohibitively expensive to redo, but apparently the wiring was OK, the plumbing was dodgy but the wiring was OK, structurally the whole building was fine, it had in the past seated up to 400 people, why was that old building simply not adaptable?

A: We had one insurance claim and two or three incidents where people got their fingers trapped in the old seating. The old seating was very small and you are right you could get more seats in there. Our insurance company said to us look, I’m sorry but we can’t insure this seating any more, it’s too hazardous to young people and elderly people and with the new regulations coming forward with access routes and people being able to escape from buildings the Victoria Hall was also problematic. The building has no thermal insulation or thermal integrity to it either, so whatever we did – even if we had chosen to do Option 2 of the two options, it would have still meant an absolute fundamental change to what that building looked like. And if we had not done any of those things and we had just renovated the building as it was, we couldn’t have brought forward all the other improvements to Southborough as we wanted to.

Q: I can see that YOU are confident from looking at all the options in detail that the new build was the only option, but given those statistics – at least 3,000 people having signed the petition – their instinct is to try to preserve and adapt the old building – and your consultation with only 287 respondants – it was 63 per cent in favour of knocking it down but that was still only 181 people, what gives you the evidence that the silent majority – the thousands who didn’t come forward to say “start again” – actually exist?

A: We had an election this time last year in May and we the Conservative group stood on a new build manifesto. The Labour group stood on a retention manifesto. The Conservative group won a huge majority. That was the starting point, that was when we were starting to believe that we were working with the people of Southborough under a mandate to move this forward with a new building. Then we had our consultation, we had numerous opportunities for members of the public in Southborough and the surrounding areas to get involved. There was consultation at the library, there were numerous events there. We had events at the primary school. You’re right 315…

Q: I think it was 287 Southborough and High Brooms residents, because that was the figure you focussed on saying 63 per cent wanted the option of demolition.

A: I must admit one thing that surprised me. There are two anomalies. We had a petition with 10,000 signatures or thereabouts saying they wanted to retain the Victoria Hall. We had a consultation showing the options that were available to the people of Southborough. We went from a 10,000 signature petition to roughly 300 people locally getting involved with the consultation. If there had been such a strength of feeling that was shown in that original petition, why did those people not come forward at all the opportunities they had to participate in the consultation?

Q: Some of them would say that it involved several hours of their time on a Saturday over Christmas when they were doing Christmas shopping, is 2 per cent the average in a consultation on something this historic?

A: Well if someone stands on your doorstep and asks you to sign a petition and the option is “will you please sign my petition to save the Victoria Hall – they want to knock it down”, even I would have signed it to save it because I didn’t have a full picture of the information. I think once the full information came forward and the people of Southborough and the surrounding areas could look online, could go to those consultations and see what was on offer and see how good the new designs and what we were going to bring forward to the people of Southborough, I think a lot of them chose to think, you know, I think they have got this in hand and we’re quite happy with it.

Q: But the options also that you gave at the consultation was either knock all of it down or knock about 1/3 of it down because Option 2 was to take the balcony down and the area off the back and to make it a smaller theatre, so many of the people who wanted the original theatre refurbished, actually wanted neither option. Perhaps that was another reason why they didn’t engage?

A: It may have been. But they did not come to the consultation and make that statement. Nobody came – and we may have had a few replies to that element – but very few people came and participated who actually had that point of view. And I think we’ve also got to look at the bigger picture. It’s not just about what people desire – and obviously having an older building is a desirable thing to have – it’s got to be financially viable, it’s got to be future-proofed, it’s got to work for this community for the next 50 years. We’re not going to get this opportunity again. It’s got to be able to provide the facilities and things that we woefully lack.

Q: So you are saying that you looked at the details of it, so just sum up again, why was it that this hall, you said the seating had to be replaced – you are saying that any modern seating meeting current regulations would have been too few seats to fit in that hall – is that the essence of it?

A: The essence of it was that the existing building box was so restrictive that to make it financially viable for people to put on theatre productions within the existing box with modern standards, modern accessibility for less able people, all of those things, the fact that there’s no sound insulation within the building, the fact that there’s no heat insulation in the building, all of those things ticked the boxes up and up and up to favour financially and the common sense approach of replacing it.

Q: And obviously people have different opinions, sometimes different architects have different opinions, how widely did you consult experts on those sort of issues? OK, Glenn says it, but who did he speak to that gives him the justification for saying you couldn’t put in an extra exit for disabled access and that sort of thing?

A: Of course, all these things can be done if there is a will to do them. But it is about having a look at the broad brush approach at the whole development. Yes, you could perhaps put an extra doorway in. Yes, you could squeeze the seats maybe, but the trouble is we wanted a hall and a facility that was going to be open to all. We want something that’s going to provide a good theatre, but we also want a hall that can have a young person’s disco in it, we want somewhere that can have a tea party in it or a party or old age pensioners to have an afternoon dance, so we need a facility that’s going to be flexible and available to all.

Hub picturesQ: Some cynical people will say: you start off with a hall that seats 300 people, or has done in the past, then at the end of this project (where you have had a windfall effectively from selling off some of your playing fields that’s funded this new development) you end up with another hall that seats about 300 people, but in a slightly different position, twisted round and further off the road, is that really the right way to spend this windfall, is it just the building companies that are going to benefit?

A: No. It’s the people of Southborough that are going to benefit because we are going to end up with brand new facilities providing theatre, entertainment, facilties for all in that hall that can be used for multiple purposes. We’ve got new council offices, we’ve got a new library, with new facilities – we will end up with a new central heart to Southborough. The football club ends up with a new pavilion. We end up with a new doctor’s facility as well on that site, which at the moment is woefully inadequate, we needed Southborough to grow a heart and beat again as an independent community and that’s what we want.

Glenn 2: Library & Ridgewaye Field

Interview with Glenn Lester, Mayor of Southborough, recorded on Friday 8th April 2016

Q: For many years, there was a concern that the price of this big development would be that Southborough would be losing a big chunk of its playing fields.  Is a big proportion of what people use at the moment for football or just general recreation – will a big chunk of that be lost?

A: Most of the land that will be lost is currently quite scrubland at the back of the Water Margin restaurant. There is going to be the loss of two small football pitches there, but with consultation with the football clubs and the benefit of bringing forward a new pavilion for them and a new way of them being able to operate their club.  We have always worked closely with the football club, as closely as we can to make sure the impact of this development has the minimum impact on what they provide for young people. I think there is 500 plus young people play football for the Ridgeway and they have sole use of the football pitches in that area so we were keen to engage with them right from the very start.

Q: So what sort of proportion of the playing fields are going to be lost?

I can’t remember the exact numbers, but if you look overall – the Ridgewaye playing fields and the Yew Tree playing fields, I think it equates to something about 15 per cent.

Library 1

Q: Looking at the library facilities – that’s a facility that lots of people in Southborough use – it is meant to be one of the best used libraries – on the plans that were put forward at the consultation, it didn’t seem as if there would be many books in the new library. It was called a hall/library. At the moment, there is a separate area for childrens’ books, which people seem to value. What will happen in the new facility? Has that now been nailed down any more definitely?

A: Libraries have been struggling for a long time over their usage. Now Soutborough library is bucking the trend slightly. It is a well used libary. We’ve had consultation with Kent libraries providers and what seems to make libraries work well is combining them in with other facilities so libraries with cafes in them, libraries where you can visit the town council, libraries where you can book tickets for a theatre show. It’s about bringing forward new modern library design that allows all of these activities to go along hand in glove, so hopefully one aids the other. So footfall to the new medical centre….a patient may perhaps say I’m going to pop into the library, it is right next door. I’m going to pick up a book on x, y, z. Oh, I’ll grab a cup of coffee while I’m there. Oh, I shall also pop into Southborough Town Council and have a chat with the clerk about a fishing permit for next year’s fishing season and I can also buy my tickets for the next theatre show that’s going on there. So, it is about a joined up approach to our service in Southborough that allows a new central position where all of these activities come together.

Library 2

Q: And what about the size of the facility – the number of books, the ability to have the slightly noisy children sometimes in a different area from other people?

We are going through some really detailed design at the moment with the internal spaces of the library and these have all been brought forward that you do need quiet spaces. You do need an opportunity for an area where parents can sit with children and read books quietly and undisturbed by somebody in the café having a louder conversation. All of this is going to be brought forward in the final internal designs. There will be areas of flexibility within the library. There may be shelving that can be stowed away, so if there was going to be a theatre performance, we might have – if you can visualise – library shelving on wheels that could be stowed into the corner so that space can double up as the foyer into the theatre all at the same time. It’s about making best use of our money and making best use of the money that’s available to provide the most services possible. But also making every square foot of that new facility work hard for Southborough and work for the people of Southborough.

 

Glenn 1: A Vision for Southborough

Interview recorded on Friday 8th April 2016

My name is Glenn Lester. I am the Mayor and Chairman of Southborough Town Council. I have been a member of Southborough Town Council for 5 years. I have been the mayor for the last 12 months. I come up for re-election as mayor in a month’s time. Hopefully I will be doing it for another 12. I have been heavily involved with the hub project and that’s the reason for carrying on for 2 years really as I seem to be the key player.

Q: How long have you lived in Southborough? What do you do in Southborough?

I moved to Southborough about 25 years ago when I met my wife who came from Southborough. She lived in Brokes Way. I was a young lad. I lived in Wadhurst – a carpenter and joiner, moved to Southborough, started my business. I am a building contractor based in Draper Street in Southborough. My children went to school in Southborough.

Glenn pic

Q: In the past few months the plans to develop the key buildings of Southbrough – the library, the council offices, theatre – have all moved forward. So where are we with this big project?

A: We are moving forward really pro-actively at the moment. We are in the final stages of bringing forward a planning proposal which would be submitted to Tunbridge Wells Planning Authority at some point hopefully in the next 4 to 6 weeks. The final details have been drawn together with consultation with Southborough Town Council, the libraries of Kent. We are trying to involve as many key players as possible, so the football club has had a lot of input with regards to the pavilion.   And it is not just about making buildings that look nice, it is about forming buildings that function well. So the operations of the building are key to the design of the building working well in the future.

Q: At the point of the planning application, will the people of Southborough have a chance to make their views known?

A: We obviously had our consultation. Once the final drawings are complete, then there will be an opportunity for the residents of Southborough to come and have a look, put a little bit of input into that and make sure they are happy, make sure that we are happy. Obviously, we’ve taken forward all the information we were given from the consultation and we have made quite considerable changes to the design. It is still fundamentally the same as the Option 1 with the round circular building in the middle and the boxes off of, to include the medical centre and the new theatre/public hall space that can be used as a theatre as well as other public facilities. We very much did a “you said, we did” approach and we’ve taken on board as much information as credible change as we can to try and bring forward a design that’s got as many people’s input as possible.

Q: So what’s your vision for what this will do for Southborough in the future?

Ah…my vision for Southborough….After 25 years plus of dereliction in the middle of Southborough High Street, the fact that it’s been woefully neglected, numerous different land owners on the old public house site that was known as the Bell, I am passionate about giving Southborough back a central hub that will create a heart to our town to enable every member of our town to participate in what we’ve got to offer. New library facilities and new doctor’s facilities. Our town has grown considerably over the past 25 years and the doctor’s facilities haven’t really changed significantly. We have got Southorough Town Council that’s squashed into three old Victorian rooms where the wallpaper is peeling off the walls and the windows are rotten and falling out. It’s time that Southborough had a breath of fresh air and I think however we move forward – and obviously we have made a decision following the consultation to move forward with option 1 – whatever we come forward with – we really want this to be the beating heart of our town and give Southborough an identity.

 

Welcome to Southborough News

By Anya Heilpern and Martin Webber

For democracy to work, voters need information. Information seems to us to be in pretty scarce supply when it comes to the future of Southborough.  Brief local newspaper articles or posts on Facebook sites clearly don’t do the job. That’s the reason we decided to start this blog.

Southborough is a beautiful town.  But it is on the brink of major change with continuing pressures to build more housing, worsening traffic congestion and the planned demolition of the 100 year old Royal Victoria Hall.  In our first major article, we have interviewed the head of Southborough Town Council, Glenn Lester.

He is a man who says he has the vision to create a “new heart” for Southborough.  Is he right?  Or are his plans impractical and threaten to make our library, theatre and medical services worse than before?

We are not trying to campaign.  We want to provide facts and a diversity of informed opinion and let the people of Southborough decide who they believe.