Hub Project on Track says Southborough Council

The Conservative councillors who’ve battled to develop the multi-million pound project to demolish the Royal Victoria Hall and build a “new heart” for Southborough say they are determined to push ahead with their plans despite continuing opposition.

Earlier this week, a key statutory consultee, Sport England, said it was making an “outright objection” due to the loss of soccer pitches in the Ridgewaye playing fields. This could lead to the government quashing the scheme whatever the Tunbridge Wells planning committee decides in a few weeks time.

In comments on Friday to Southborough News, the Hub’s project leader at Southborough Town Council, Glenn Lester, said: “Sport England have a default setting of objecting to the loss of any open space, but we believe that the benefits out way the loss.  There is always a compromise.”


Mr Lester believes the planners will be ‘mindful’ of the objection but ultimately will take a ‘common sense’ approach and give the go-ahead.

Mr Lester also referred to some of the other objectors who have made their feelings known in the past week: “This is purely a left wing political attempt to scupper Southborough’s future for its own political gain. The cost of which will be borne by the residents of Southborough for years to come.”

85 per cent of public comments appearing on the Tunbridge Wells planning website are from people objecting to the scheme.  As of Monday morning (3rd October 2016), there were 148 public objections, compared with only 26 messages of support. But Mr Lester still believes the silent majority of people in Southborough are supporting him.

You can study all the public comments on this blog in a much more easy to read format than on the Tunbridge Wells planning website. See:

Jason old RVHMr Lester continued: “When we live with a dilapidated hall, Council offices, no football pavilion and a doctors that is not fit for modern local medical provision and an outdated Library and our High Street dead through lack of a new vibrant heart, we will just have to look no further than the Labour Group in Southborough for the reasons why.”

Six Reasons to Save the “Superb” Royal Victoria Hall

A veteran performer on the stage of the Royal Victoria Hall has made a new appeal for it to be saved – rather than demolished – and has listed six “special attributes” the theatre possesses.

Derek Holland told Southborough News “The acoustics of the Royal Victoria Hall are better than any theatre I have played in.  Without any microphones, you could stand on the stage and whisper and be heard in the gallery.”

Mr Holland said: “I could name half a dozen people who would happily run the Royal Victoria Hall, as a non-paid job.”  He said the replacement space proposed within the Hub was not a theatre, but a plain hall without any of the same facilities.


In a comment published on the planning website on Friday, Mr Holland (pictured above) said he had been associated with the Royal Victoria Hall since 1973 and since then had been involved in plays and Old Time Music Hall productions and so says he feels  “somewhat qualified to speak of the special attributes that this superb theatre has.”

He points to these six features:

  1. The acoustics are better than any theatre I have played in, and over the last 50 years I have played in many.
  1. The stage has a superb “rake” and is a perfect height allowing audiences to see as well as hear everything no matter where they are sitting.
  1. The bar and bar area big enough for all those who wish to use it before, during the interval and after the show. The bar is big enough to serve its customers quickly.
  1. The stage has enough space above and in the wings to allow for scenery and players to move quickly and efficiently.
  1. There is ample dressing room space and rehearsal and meeting room upstairs.
  1. Most of all – this wonderful historic building was given to the people of Southborough and run PROPERLY in conjunction with the new hub facilities could be an outstanding artistic and financial success.


Mr Holland is pictured below wearing a purple robe and gold crown on the right of the cast photo of “Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum” on stage at The Royal Victoria Hall in March 2014.

d-hollandBefore retiring, Derek Holland was a businessman and served as the managing director of a printing company, The Color Company, from 1999 to 2003.  He joined the Tunbridge Wells Drama club in 1972 which went on to become the Trinity Theatre Club.

Mr Holland was a in a professional production of “Peter Pan” at the Assembly Hall playing “Smee” opposite Captain Hook  played by Colin Baker of “Dr Who” fame.  Now aged 72, he is just about to play “Buffalo Bill” in “Annie Get Your Gun” in Rotherfield starting on October 13th.

Mr Holland continued that after seeing one local amateur production recently in Wadhurst, he was  “gobsmacked” by the high quality of the young acting talent in the Tunbridge Wells area and a revived Royal Victoria Hall could make money if run properly.

Sport England says “No” to Hub building plans

In a significant setback to existing proposals for the Southborough Hub development, Sport England have told planners they are making an “outright objection” to the application due to the loss of playing fields used by the local soccer teams.

The report by Sport England appeared on Monday morning on the Tunbridge Wells Planning website.  (NB This blog has been slightly updated on Wednesday)

Sport England’s view is likely to hold a lot of weight in the planning decision and it has special powers as a “statutory consultee.”  It is now possible that – even if the Hub plans are approved by the planning committee in Tunbridge Wells next month- the development could be vetoed by the Secretary of State for  Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, (below) on the basis of the loss of sports fields.

sajid_javid_16 The Hub project team insist they will continue to pursue the Hub application to the planning committee decision.  At the same time, it is possible that negotiations could take place between Sport England and the project board about a development using up less space on playing fields or making specific provision of replacement soccer pitches elsewhere in Tunbridge Wells.

The precise mechanism is that if Tunbridge Wells councillors ignore Sport England, the application would automatically be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit. This is a unit within the Department of Communities and Local Government, which could then decide to “call in” the proposal and refer it to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, who’s the former Sports minister, who would make a final decision on whether the scheme could go ahead.

Meanwhile, the planning website recorded another 17 objections on Monday to the hub and one message in support – from one of the Southborough Town Councillors behind the scheme, Bob Backhouse. The tally on Monday night was 82% against, with 121 objectors and 26 supporters. Further comments were added on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sport England’s submission says: “The proposed development would appear to be sited on an existing pavilion and an area of playing field, which is currently marked out for playing pitches. Locating this aspect of the proposed development on the existing playing field would prejudice the use of the playing field. Although the proposal includes a replacement pavilion it is not clear who will be providing this. For the avoidance of doubt, Sport England has responded to various Local Plan document consultations objecting to this site being allocated (we are happy to provide these on request) and we therefore do not support the loss of part of this playing field site.”

It continues: “As part of this consultation, Sport England consulted The FA and they confirmed that they strongly object to the proposal. They also confirmed the following key points:

  •  According to Kent FA records and league/club enquiries the site is used by Tunbridge Wells Youth FC (formerly Tunbridge Wells Ridgewaye Youth), an FA Charter Standard Community Club with 37 affiliated teams. The club also includes 47 female players and have also supported 65 coaches with their next level coaching qualification within the last four years.
  • The Playing Pitch Strategy is in its early stages and therefore currently there isn’t an up to date needs analysis for Tunbridge Wells. It should be noted that the brief indicated that it is generally acknowledged that Tunbridge Wells and the wider borough have an under-provision of quality sports pitches and ancillary facilities – many of which are dated, and compromised. (Tunbridge Wells BC, PPS Brief, March 2016).
  • Our early investigate indicate that potentially 2 ½ pitches will be lost leading to the potentially displacement of teams; we understand that 2x 5v5; 2x7v7 and an 11v11 pitch that has 9v9 marked are at risk. The proposal includes a replacement pavilion for the existing pavilion that will be lost as a result of this development. However we understand that the club have been asked to apply for funding from Football Foundation for the proposed pavilion, which places this element of the scheme at risk. The current pavilion plans are not compliant to FA standards.
  • The loss of so many grass pitches will have a significant negative impact not least to the club in first instance but also the overall supply in an area where demand is high.”

Sport England conclude: “In light of the above, Sport England objects to the application because it is not considered to accord with any of the exceptions to Sport England’s Playing Fields Policy or with Paragraph 74 of the NPPF. Should your Council be minded to grant planning permission for the development then in accordance with The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, the application should be referred to the Secretary of State via the National Policy Casework Unit.”

The project team reacted in comments to Times of Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday. In the paper, the hub’s project leader at Southborough Town Council, Glenn Lester, said the Sport England’s objection was ‘not terminal’ for the project’s prospects.

“Whenever any developer uses land which is classed as sports fields Sport England are always going to object, so this was always expected. We knew they were never going to support it.”

He believes the planners will be ‘mindful’ of the objection but ultimately will take a ‘common sense’ approach and give the go-ahead.

In addition, he refuted claims that there was no clarity on the provision of a new pavilion, stating ‘most’ of the funding would come from the proceeds of the sale, while the FA may provide additional funding if they wish to expand on the existing plans.

Mr Lester’s views were echoed by the hub’s project manager at Kent County Council, Jonathan White, who said: “Sport England are statutory consultees and we have been in consultation with them throughout the life of the project. Their objection was not unexpected and will be fully considered.”


Southborough Hub project to proceed despite Sport England setback

“Vibrant Focal Point” or “Plastic Lunch Box”?

The Southborough Councillors who’ve spent the past year developing plans for the Southborough Hub are unlikely to be swayed by the balance of comments submitted by the public to the planning authority.

As of Saturday afternoon, 82 per cent of comments were opposed to the scheme, with 103 objectors and 23 supporters.

But Peter Oakford, who is the Conservative Town, Borough and County councillor pushing most strongly for the scheme, (pictured below) believes most of the 10,000 people in Southborough are ready for change.

OakfordHis planning comment argued the plans created a “new vibrant focal point for all residents”. He said: “The fabulous integrated design which brings so many of the services under one roof will lead to an active town centre which is something sadly lacking within Southborough”.

Mr Oakford said: “The inclusion of a new improved medical centre is critical as with the demise of the existing facility without this development Southborough and High Brooms residents will need to travel to Tunbridge Wells or Tonbridge to see a GP. The entire town benefits from this development including the 500 children and young people that play football on the Ridgewaye as the project includes a new and enhanced pavilion for the football club”.

But Richard Blackwell, who is a former Southborough mayor and served on Southborough Council for 31 years from 1972, says he “strongly” objects to the current proposals. He believes the Royal Victoria Hall is “much loved” and should be retained.  It is shown below pictured today with a skip apparently ready to remove its fixtures.


Mr Blackwell said: “It was an honour to serve two terms as Town Mayor. They fell during the towns centenary in 1994. The salute was taken outside the RVH on the day of our celebrations – the same spot that previous civic leaders had saluted the homecoming veterans from two world wars. Concerts, shows, drama festivals, exhibitions, the annual flower show and the much loved pantomimes were all enjoyed by many residents and visitors for decades.”

Richard Blackwell says: “I, together with others, negotiated the purchase and transfer of the former Ridgewaye school playing fields, some 15 acres in all to the STC. Our intention was to retain, for the town, these valuable open spaces – not for the space to be covered by 69 houses.”

Mr Blackwell concludes: “In successfully buying the land for the STC I never envisaged that the legacy would be the imposition of a “large plastic lunch box”, dropped in the middle of our town.”

facadeThe picture above was published by the developers as how the new hub building might look when given its proposed finish of polycarbonate cladding.  Below is the look today of the brick-built Royal Victoria Hall.


13 year old Eloise Martin commented: “I loved our library when I was little, the best I’ve ever used. The new one won’t compare. With no separate children’s library = no cosy corners to sit and read or enjoy story time.”

Eloise said: “I love to learn about the history of Southborough. My road and surrounding ones were once busy with corner shops (now houses or flats) there were halls, hotels and churches which are now gone. I urge you not to get rid of the RVH as well. I for one want to see it remaining for the rest of my life.”

The planning authority has said comments can still be made for the next few days.

Comments can be submitted in writing or by email, but you need to include the following information in order for your comments or objections to be registered:

  • Your full name
  • Your full address
  • The reference number of the application which is 16/06081/HYBRID
  • clearly say whether you support, object or are neutral on the proposal
  • your comments
  • email to

If you want to see clearly exactly what everyone is saying, I have created a page with ALL the comments in full.  Link to it here:

In addition, a delightful account of the events of 1899 and 1900 when Southborough was a proud and independent town can be viewed here:

82% of Comments Oppose Hub Scheme

As of Saturday morning, with the official deadline for comments to the Tunbridge Wells Planning website passed, opponents of the Hub scheme were in a clear lead with 82 per cent of neighbour comments opposed to the scheme.

At 1.00pm on Saturday, the tally was 103 comments against, with 23 in favour. Comments emailed on Friday are still to be counted, while the planners say they are still open to further comments in the coming days.

There was no word on Friday from the Tunbridge Wells Council planners as to whether they have seen enough evidence of the Royal Victoria Hall’s historic importance to add it to the borough’s list of Local Heritage Assets.  Currently the planners deem the Hall to have zero heritage value.

Planning officials say the cut off for comments on Friday is not absolute and people who haven’t been able to comment by Friday night can still submit comments in the next few days, if not via the direct submission on the website, then by emailing the planners.

Comments can be submitted in writing or by email, but you need to include the following information in order for your comments or objections to be registered:

  • Your full name
  • Your full address
  • The reference number of the application which is 16/06081/HYBRID
  • clearly say whether you support, object or are neutral on the proposal
  • your comments
  • email to

Planners Want Evidence from Public that Royal Victoria Hall has Historic Value

The planning team in Tunbridge Wells says it would welcome the public providing evidence of the historical value of the Royal Victoria Hall.

Currently, the Hall, which opened in 1900, is deemed by the planners to have no historic value at all, as it is not on the list of the Borough’s Local Heritage Assets.

But English Heritage, which believes the building is not of national importance, has issued a report stating that the Royal Victoria Hall is “undoubtedly of local historic interest”.

So the Tunbridge Wells Conservation Officer, Mark Stephenson, has said this could lead to the Hall being added to the Local Heritage Asset list if there was enough evidence submitted by the public to the planning consultation in the next few days of the Hall having been important in Southborough’s history.

stageThe relevant page on planning is:

However, Mark Stephenson stressed that being placed on the Local Heritage Asset list wouldn’t guarantee any particular result in the planning decision.  It would simply mean the planners would have to weigh up the loss of a heritage asset against the value of a new building.

Meanwhile, the deadline for submissions is Friday 23rd September and there are still only a trickle of comments in support or against the massive “Hub” development plan, costing tens of millions of pounds.


TV Architect Ptolemy Dean Condemns Hub Design as “Poor”

The architect Ptolemy Dean, who co-presented BBC2’s popular “Restoration” series, has studied the planned Southborough Hub scheme and condemned it as “poor”.

Mr Dean told Southborough News: “I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor, when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the Council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.”

He continued:  “Southborough has a rich architectural tradition. The proposed design might be anywhere, and would have been enriched by the retention of the existing historic building.”


Ptolemy Dean became a familiar figure thanks to his TV appearances on “Restoration” from 2006-2009. His firm, Ptolemy Dean Architects, specialises in conservation work to historic buildings, additions to historic buildings and the design of new buildings in sensitive locations. He also serves on the National Trust Architectural Panel.

Mr Dean used to live in Tunbridge Wells and now lives in Wadhurst.  He said he knows the site quite well and his children have attended performances in the Royal Victoria Hall.

The design statement from Hub architects Pick Everard states: “The local context fails to create an architectural vernacular for the centre of Southborough and therefore it is the aim of the Hub to establish a new vernacular. The material palette for the hub has been chosen to create a dynamic and active landmark for the centre of the town.”

Facade.jpgPick Everard says the cladding to areas above ground floor “is proposed to be finished in a lightweight translucent polycarbonate material” of an appearance similar to the picture above.  Pick Everard’s statement continues: “The civic and cultural functions of the building can potentially spread out of the building and animate a civic town square environment.”

Ptolemy Dean said: “Plastic cladding is hardly much better than UPVC weather board, albeit a different colour”.

Mr Dean continued: “The proposed redevelopment plan seems to create a large amount of empty public space where the present building is located – part of which I see is labelled ‘Town Square’.  In reality, this won’t be a town square in any real sense as the buildings that contain it are too fragmented, incoherent and insufficient to enclose the space from the constant drone of passing of traffic along the A26.  It would be better to keep and refurbish the old building and to create better and more meaningful public space on its southern side, with some screening of the A26.”

Mr Dean concludes: “If you visit the Trinity Church in Tunbridge Wells, the intimate spaces around the building here work much better than what is being shown on the Southborough plan.”

New Library “Exciting Moment”

The prospect of a new library for Southborough has been described by Kent County Council as “an exciting moment” for the community.

James Pearson, who’s the Strategic Manager for Business Development at the KCC Libraries, Registration and Archive service, told Southborough News that the new library will be slightly bigger than the existing facility, with all the existing stock of books moved to the new location.

Mr Pearson said he was looking forward to the prospect of the library being combined with a cafe which was “very much where the national thinking about libraries is moving.”

We asked whether users who wanted quiet reading time would be distracted by noise from children, given the old library has a hard wall between the childrens’ library and the main library, which won’t be the case in the new building.  He said: “There’s going to be times when the building is busy and noisy but there will be times when the building is quiet as well.”

You can watch the full 5 minute interview here:

Theatre Experts are “Concerned” About Southborough Hub Plans

The statutory body that oversees Britain’s theatres says it is “concerned” about the design of the big new “Hub” development in Southborough.

The Theatres Trust has sent a submission to the planning authority asking for a more detailed plan of the new planned library area in the “Hub” to ensure it is big enough to  meet legal space requirements when it doubles up as the foyer when 350 people attend theatre performances.

Ross Anthony, the Planning Advisor for the Theatres Trust, told Southborough News that he was worried because the project had gone to the planning stage “without having had a picture of what will make it a viable venue.”

Image result for theatres trust

Issues still apparently still unresolved include the final business plan, whether the cafe will be a commercial or volunteer operation, and who would manage the mixed use spaces between performances, council meetings and the library.

Mr Anthony couldn’t point to a similar project that the Theatre Trust had experience of that was trying to juggle all these varied users.  He offered to coordinate a day long review process for the project, drawing on the professional expertise of theatre managers to ensure what is being built will meet future demands.

Mr Anthony’s planning submission warns: “Performance venues are technically complex facilities and if not designed correctly from the outset, are costly to retro fit. We are concerned the project is proceeding without a decision on who and how the theatre component will be operated, nor a clear understanding of what facilities the theatre and hall users actually need.”

section-2His report continued: “A clear vision about the purpose of this cultural facility and how it will be used is needed. This is essential to inform the design, layout, access and technical needs and to ensure that decisions made do not compromise the theatre’s long term viability.”

He concluded: “We highly recommend the various parties involved in this project do this now to ensure there is a clear understanding of how the theatre and support spaces will operate, particularly given their shared use and integration with the community rooms, café, and library.”

The Royal Victoria Hall is currently on the Trust’s “Theatre Buildings at Risk Register”.

Lynda Middlemiss, who’s the Planning Officer at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for the “Hub”, was not available on Friday to comment on whether more detailed drawings would be required or whether the Theatres Trust submission would delay the approval timetable.

Meanwhile, Kent County Council have told the planners that the scheme is also missing its required flood plan report.

The Theatres Trust says it should have been notified in law by the planners about the scheme, but heard about it anyway, and so has submitted comments.



Remit: The Theatres Trust is the National Advisory Public Body for Theatres, established to ‘promote the better protection of theatres’ through the Theatres Trust Act 1976. It also delivers statutory planning advice on theatre buildings and theatre use in England through The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 that requires the Trust to be consulted by local authorities on planning applications which include ‘development involving any land on which there is a theatre.’ This applies to all theatre buildings, including those adapted for theatre use and those currently disused. Our main objective is to safeguard theatre use, or the potential for such use, but we also seek to provide impartial expert advice to establish the most viable and effective solutions at the earliest possible stages of development.

Advice: Given Southborough Town Council’s decision to close the Royal Victoria Hall, the Theatres Trust welcomes and supports the provision of a new theatre and cultural facility within the proposed Southborough Hub development. While the Trust generally supports scheme, it is important that all operational and design issues are taken into consideration and resolved at this planning stage to ensure the theatre venue and library are viable and will deliver the expected cultural benefits for the local community and to the development itself.

Some of these design and operational issues that need further consideration include:

–    An indicative layout of the library is required to demonstrate it is of an adequate size for the support facilities (foyer, box office, bar and wc) for 350 audience members from the theatre, in addition to the café and library furniture. At 180sqm, before library furniture is considered, that is 0.5smq per person (it is noted that BS 9999 Code of practice for fire safety in the design management and use of buildings states a minimum floor space area per person for theatre foyers as 0.3 m2 per person). There is an opportunity to increase the size of the circulation corridor in front of the theatre to ease congestion and meet current audience and building code expectations with regards foyer and interval space.

–    We have concerns with the dual use of the committee rooms as dressing rooms, as in terms of future proofing the Hub, it means the committee rooms cannot be hired out or used at the same time as the theatre, and this limits the viability and revenue potential of the Hub. We strongly recommend providing dedicated dressing room(s) (preferably at ground floor), with use of the committee rooms available as additional space as the need arises. It should be noted that for child protection, separate dressing rooms for children and adults are required.

–    The access door to the kitchen off the theatre workshop should be relocated to the adjacent corridor, as it will not be able to be used during performances due to noise interference. We assume this kitchen is for theatre use only and that the café does not require this space as a support facility.close-up

–    Details about the retractable seating should be clarified, as depending on the type of bleachers used, storage space for chairs and tables for use in the hall may be required.

–    A management strategy is required to address issues such as how the library facilities are to be secured and managed when the library is closed but the theatre is operational, how the various functions are going to be managed in an integrated fashion, and clear guidance on how the shared facilities, such as the committee rooms are to be managed.

While the Theatres Trust supports the provision of a replacement theatre and cultural facility within the new hub development, the above advice is given in the best interests of all parties to ensure the delivery of a genuinely viable cultural venue that continues to support the cultural needs of Southborough.

The Trust also offers an Advisory Review service, which is a peer led review by a panel of independent theatre and design experts to address queries and concerns arising during capital works projects, and would be happy to provide further detail on this process if required.





Parking Zone May Be Way Forward in Pennington Road

Council officials are to carry out surveys of the parking situation in Pennington Road, after it was discovered that commuters from outside the area may be using the free parking facilities there to catch a daily coach service to London.

Opinion from local people is being sought on the possibility of a parking zone for residents only that may include part of the free Car Park.


Peter Oakford, who is the Town Council member for Southborough North and who also sits on the Tunbridge Wells Borough and Kent County Councils, has distributed a letter to residents, which states:

“I have been contacted by a number of local residents in recent weeks regarding the parking situation on Pennington Road, Park Road and the surrounding streets, including the Pennington Park car park. I would like to gauge the feeling of impacted residents before we take this further and begin a formal public consultation.”

The letter continues: “We are all aware that there are a number of contributing factors to this issue which includes the parking of commuters travelling by bus to London and the large number of commercial vehicles being left on the roads overnight and at weekends, often parked too close to road junctions causing cars to have to pull out blind on to the wrong side of the road”.

p1100501Mr Oakford says: “Having met with the parking enforcement manager at TWBC it has been agreed to investigate the possibility of creating a residents parking zone on Pennington Road as far as the Park Road junction, Park Road, Castle Street, Draper Street and Sheffield Road. Two thirds of Pennington Car Park would also be included in the residents zone with one third designated for a maximum of 2 hour stay. There would be an annual charge for a resident’s permit if this project were to go forward which would be discussed as part of the formal consultation.”

He adds: “The other thought is to not to explore a residents parking zone but to convert Pennington Park car park to a period of 2 hours’ maximum stay between 10.00 and 16.00 Monday to Friday. I believe this will cause further congestion on the local streets and the car park needs to be part of a larger solution.

“Using the camera car, TWBC has agreed to begin a survey of the area which will take place at various times of the day and evening to determine vehicle movement and length of stay. This will provide an indication of the number of vehicles that are being left in the area during the working day.

“We are still at the initial planning stage and the inclusion of Pennington car park will need to be agreed with Southborough Council, therefore before we develop this any further which will lead to the formal proposal and public consultation we would like to hear the views of local residents.

Mr Oakford has invited comments to the Southborough Town Council office or to his emails:   or

So far he says he has had “a great response to my letter”  and will in a week or so collate all the replies for discussion with Highways and TWBC to look at what can be done.

Parking restrictions were imposed in the form of double yellow lines on an extra section of Pennington Road recently after an accident caused by parked cars. This section is shown below but one result was a further reduction in available parking spaces in the road.



Parking was not an issue when a photo was taken from the same spot in what was then called Pennington Lane in 1908.

The coach operator, Centaur, advertises the attractions of the free car park in Pennington Road in its timetables for its London service: