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.”

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