The Southborough Society says it now fully supports the Council Hub scheme and has expressed that view clearly to planners, in a reversal of its position of a year ago.
The views of local amenity societies are generally given greater weight in planning reports than comments from individuals, so the stance of the Society will have been important to supporters of the current Hub scheme as it will have helped persuade the planning officers to recommend the Hub should be approved – something that was announced this week.
On the controversial issue of the Royal Victoria Hall, the Society argues its demolition is now inevitable and says: “It is hoped that tribute can be paid to the Royal Victoria Hall that will sadly need to be demolished to make way for the hub, this could be in the form of photos/original programmes/brass plaque.”
The Southborough Society opinion continues: “The promise is of state-of-the-art theatre facilities and hope this is delivered and hope the venue is properly marketed to attract a variety of hirers and performers. Space for the provision of museum displays is sought. Within the cultural centre it is hoped that high quality display cabinets are incorporated into the library space”.
The Chairman of the Southborough Society, Michael Howes (pictured above), previously was a strong supporter of the Royal Victoria Hall being retained. After a survey of members in 2015 he said in a newsletter to members: “The results of this survey reinforce the Society’s stance that the existing hall should be kept when the Hub is built.”
Of the 82 completed questionnaires that were returned by Southborough Society members in that 2015 survey:
- 51% said they would prefer the existing building to be retained and renovated
- 21% said they would like the main auditorium kept but incorporated into the new Hub with the possible demolition of parts of the current building.
- 28% said they would prefer total demolition of the existing hall and a new complex built in its place.
Of those that favoured the demolition/rebuild option in this 2015 survey, 83 % wanted the new theatre to be at least as big as the RVH and have at least the same facilities.
Some Southborough Society members have already expressed surprise at the recent switch in the Society’s position, which accepts a complete change in the appearance of the centre of Southborough from the largely Victorian character that makes it still recognisable from the picture of the London Road shown above from 1910.
Michael Howes told members during the summer this year that although he had switched his personal position to support for RVH demolition, the Society would remain “neutral” in public, as members were too divided for an all-Society view to be formed. It is not clear at what point the public Society position was switched to full support for the Hub.
Some Society members have also queried whether Michael Howes has stuck rigidly to the constitution of the Society (included at the end of this article), which demands that any change in policy be agreed at the Annual General Meeting. No debate was held at this year’s AGM on whether the Royal Victoria Hall should be retained. Members can demand special Society meetings if 15 members combine to demand a meeting in a letter.
When questioned by Southborough News on these issues, Michael Howes made the following comments: “Fewer than a third of the Society’s members responded to the questionnaire which suggests that the rest were either neutral or didn’t care. It is therefore wrong of some of our critics to state that we are going against the wishes of our members – statistically this does not stack up. Also, much more detail about the Hub has come to light since the survey. At the time it was widely rumoured that the RVH’s replacement would be a tiny village hall with a stage at one end. January’s public consultation proved this not to be the case – a multi purpose hall is proposed with a larger seating capacity than the current theatre”.
Mr Howes continued by speculating about the alternatives: “It is important to consider the consequences if the Hub application is not approved. It will not be a chance for the RVH to be restored. The three landowners would simply shelve the idea of any community facility and sell the land. The three councils involved in this scheme believe it to be the only viable option and the people campaigning against it run the risk of denying Southborough a chance of rejuvenation at all”.
Mr Howes ended his comments by saying: “The slogan of the Southborough Society is “The civic, heritage and amenity Society for Southborough and High Brooms”. We are not focused purely on history, we have to be forward thinking and consider the amenities of the town as well. We currently have a medical centre which is not adequate to serve the needs of the area plus huge uncertainty about the tenancy of its building, a dilapidated council office with no disabled access, a piece of wasteland which is an eyesore to thousands of passers by each day, no focal point of the town or a town square which could be considered the heart of the community and no museum space for us to show off our rich heritage. All of these issues will be resolved with the creation of the Hub and for me it is a no-brainer”.
Dr Janet Sturgis (pictured above), who is Chair of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, told Southborough News on Thursday: “While of course the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society’s members have views on this issue, we know from experience that our intervention in Southborough matters is not welcomed by the Southborough Society, who feel we ought not to interfere in “their patch”. We are facing our own Cultural Hub proposals, so follow the Southborough case with interest but do not feel it appropriate to intervene.”
Mr Howes has reaffirmed his pro-Hub stance in recent days with a new submission to the planning authority under his own name and he remains active on Facebook, where he engaged in an exchange with Hub critics (see below). Mr Howes insisted this week that the man who part funded the building of the Royal Victoria Hall in 1900, Sir David Salomons, would now support its demolition.
Mr Howes, Olwyn Kinghorn and her husband Ian Kinghorn are believed to be the main three members of the Southborough Society committee that have taken the lead on the Society’s policy on the Hub. All three feel the “silent majority” of Southborough residents back the current plans, despite the current online petition against the scheme which has now been signed by 1,200 people. Petition details here:
This is the constitution of the Southborough Society:
The objects of the society shall be:
(a) to encourage high standards of planning, architecture and road development in the area within the jurisdiction of Southborough Town Council
(b) to stimulate interest in and care for the beauty, history and character of the town and its surroundings.
(c) to encourage the preservation, development and improvement of features of general public amenity or historic or architectural interest in the town, the Common and the surrounding countryside including footpaths, bridlepaths and trees
(d) to pursue the aforesaid objects by the purchase of …property…meetings, exhibitions, newsletters etc (edited here)
(e) to raise funds for the furtherance of the work of the society…
The society shall elect an Executive Committee to organize and co-ordinate the activities of the Society, to represent the Society and to manage its affairs in such manner as the Executive Committee may from time to time think fit, but subject always to any prior directions of the Society in general meeting… (detail of numbers of executive committee members follows)
(a) An annual General Meeting of the Society shall be held each year before the end of July
(b) A special meeting of the Society shall be convened by the Chairman or Secretary within 28 days of the receipt by either of them of a request therefore signed by 15 members of the Society stating the objects of such a meeting
(c) Ordinary meetings of the Society may beheld at such times as the Executive shall determine
(d) 6 members personally present shall constitute a quorum for any meeting of the Society