As Southborough Town Council pushes on with developing its plans for the multi-million pound Hub development, Southborough News has heard from two local Councillors who remain poles apart on the best way forward.
Cllr Zulhash Uddin from the majority Conservative group told us of the “real enthusiasm” he now saw from residents towards the Hub, but Cllr Nick Blackwell, who heads the Labour group, told us he was not convinced that the current plans represented the right solution for Southborough.
Both interviews are now available here as YouTube videos. Southborough News spoke to the two Councillors after the last presentation to the public of the Hub plans at Southborough Library on Saturday 16th July.
At a meeting on Monday 18th July, the Conservative majority on the council passed a motion to send the current Hub plans to Tunbridge Wells District Council for planning approval. If no objections are allowed, the scheme would see the demolition of Southborough’s existing theatre, library and medical centre.
We asked Cllr Uddin about the loss of the 100 year old Royal Victoria Hall Theatre. He responded: “We are losing a building which had a lot of history and heritage, but also we hope that the decision that the council has taken will bring something bigger and better for the communities to enjoy. It was a very difficult decision, but the council had to make a decision.”
Cllr Uddin told us it would be a “sustainable project” and a “legacy for the community”. He concluded: “This is bringing life back into Southborough ….and a community spirit back into Southborough.”
But Nick Blackwell of Labour told us he was “very sad” that the Royal Victoria Hall Theatre was not going to be retained and also expressed concern about the increasing numbers of homes planned for the site and the impact of those homes on traffic congestion. The Local plan for the site had suggested 25 homes were appropriate, but the number of dwellings now planned to be built on the Ridgewaye fields is 69.
Cllr Blackwell also remarked on the lack of a published business plan, arguing that if the building revenues don’t match the running costs when the Hub is built, it could mean a “massive hike” in council tax.
Cllr Blackwell then criticised the design being sent to the planners: “It beggars belief that they have designed a hall …that doesn’t contain any windows….This is supposed to be a sustainable building except it will be lit by artificial illumination….If they had consulted properly, this could have been a really good hall.”
He concluded: “We are getting a very cheap building. We’ve been told we’re getting Prada – we’re getting Poundland.”