The electronic petition that was started a week ago under the title “Southborough Deserves Better” calling for the current Hub designs to be scrapped reached 1,000 supporters on Sunday, only a week after its launch.
The evidence of continuing dissatisfaction with the Southborough Town Council project prompted the Priest in Charge at St Thomas’s Church in Pennington Road, Rachel Wilson, to say: “If a thousand people are upset, you cannot ignore it.”
Rachel Wilson put a formal submission supporting the Hub plans in September arguing: “this development has the potential to both support the regeneration of the area and improve community cohesion.” But she told Southborough News on Sunday: “I understand where the objectors are coming from. It is incumbent on the people in power to pay attention.”
The main petition organiser, Brian Dury (pictured below), said: “I am overwhelmed by the level of verbal and written support we have received… I would just like to thank everyone for their support and to ask them to keep on encouraging more signatures and for people to write into the planning department expressing their views. Now is not the time to give up!”
Brian Dury was born in Southborough and has lived in the town all his life. He has been involved in campaigns to save the Ridgewaye Fields from development since 1991. Before retirement, he was a professional engineer in telecommunications. He is now Chairman of Kent Area of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and visits schools to encourage students to take up a career in engineering, as a STEM ambassador.
Mr Dury told Southborough News on Sunday: “In just over 8 days we have hit and gone beyond the 1,000 signatures mark and the numbers are still growing. Together with a small army of helpers we have delivered 5,000 leaflets across Southborough and High Brooms. From Bounds Oak Way to Welbeck Avenue and Valley View to Bright Ridge we have received nothing but encouragement.” The petition site is here:
Strong opinions on both sides of the Hub debate were clearly in evidence when Southborough News spoke to people at random in the town on Sunday afternoon. Mike Lucas of Pennington Road said: “I don’t see any merit in preserving the ugly Victoria Hall…knock it down.” A resident of Summerhill Avenue said: “I think the Hub plan looks great…we need new facilities…it looks positive.”
By contrast, Paul Funnell of Fernhurst Crescent said he thought money should be spent refurbishing the Royal Victoria Hall and reopening it, not knocking it down. Mr Funnell said his family had been amazed at the high quality of a production they’d seen there, arguing “it was so good in every respect…it felt like an evening out at a London theatre.”
The petition organiser, Brian Dury also told Southborough News that: “There is almost total ignorance about what is going on with the Hub and people are only now just waking up to the fact that within a matter of months the Royal Victoria Hall and council offices will be demolished, leaving a hole in the town like the old cinema site in Tunbridge Wells”.
Mr Dury, who ended his career controlling budgets of more than £ 100 million a year delivering new hardware and software projects, emphasised the financial risks with the current Southborough Hub plan: “I was surprised by the number of people who are asking how much the Hub was going to cost and who is paying. I don’t think many of them are aware that it’s them who are going to pay on their council tax.”
Mr Dury argued: “This is something we are clearly going to have to come back to since there is a complete and utter silence on the subject from Southborough Town Council. I think the public would be shocked to know that no councillor other than Glenn Lester and Peter Oakford could tell you anything about the Hub finances.”
Glenn Lester (pictured above), who represents Southborough Town Council’s interests on the Hub project, has previously argued to Southborough News that the Hub will allow the Council to build a new badly needed medical centre for the local doctors’ surgery. Mr Lester said: “After 25 years plus of dereliction in the middle of Southborough High Street…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”.
Although the sample was far too small to be scientific, of 22 people questioned on Sunday afternoon by Southborough News, the results were:
* 14 were against the existing Hub plans to demolish the Royal Victoria Hall
* 4 were in favour of current Council Hub plans put forward by Glenn Lester
* 4 were undecided
Of the 14 opponents, only 4 had signed the electronic petition so far, suggesting that the petition numbers could grow further in the coming days.
The St Thomas’s Priest in Charge, Rachel Wilson, said she would support the idea of a Southborough wide referendum, with a ballot posted to every voter in the town to ask if they were for or against the current scheme. She said: “a referendum may be the only way that all voices can be heard”. 17 of the 22 people surveyed by Southborough News on Sunday also agreed with the idea of a referendum.
Meanwhile on the Tunbridge Wells Planning Portal, formal objections are up to 191, which is 85 % of comments opposed to the Hub. On Sunday, Ed MacNaughton of Holden Park Road commented that the plans were: “not wanted by those living in the town, yet you don’t appear to want to listen to the majority…It is almost laughable that the theatre is not listed, but the Chinese restaurant next to the site is. It just shows what a mess your planning regulations are in”.
All the comments are available on this link:
The Planning decision is expected to be made on Wednesday 9th November at 5pm, so residents have very little time left to register their views before documents are prepared for the planning committee at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.