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.
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.
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.