Central government planners are set to decide the fate of the Southborough Hub after the planning committee of Tunbridge Wells council voted by 11 to 0 with one abstention to approve the plans.
Councillors usually follow advice of planning officers who argued strongly for the scheme at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Speakers from the Stag theatre in Sevenoaks, the treasurer of the Ridgewaye football club, the St Andrew’s medical centre and Ian Kinghorn from the Southborough Society spoke at the meeting in favour of the scheme. The speaker from the Stag Theatre was the General Manager, Andrew Eyre, who’s also a local Conservative District Councillor (pictured below).
But Sport England are still objecting to the loss of recreation space and “sub-standard” replacement soccer pavillion so the borough lose their power to decide the outcome. It is not clear how long the process of referral to central government will take.
The man who has pushed the current Hub plans to their current stage, Cllr Peter Oakford said afterwards he was “ecstatic”. He said Southborough could now “move forward for the next generation.” Cllr Oakford is on the Southborough Town Council, the Borough Council and Kent County Council, but didn’t have a vote at the planning meeting.
Afterwards, Cllr Heasman (Conservative), who represents the Pantiles & St Mark’s Ward and who voted for the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall said he knew lots of people in Southborough and the “silent majority” wanted a new building. In the meeting, he said the Royal Victoria Hall “was not a pretty building.”
Cllr Dianne Hill (Labour), who didn’t have a vote as she is not on the planning committee, said “I’m not surprised but it is very disappointing the people of Southborough are being ignored. It was acknowledged by some members of the committee that the consultation was flawed. We are pleased that Sport England upheld their objection to protect the sports fields.”
The picture (from google maps) above illustrates what the centre of Southborough may feel like after the Hub is built. This is the polycarbonate clad Trinity Laban Dance Studio in Deptford. Tunbridge Wells council’s Urban Design expert, Alan Legg, referred to this building in his upbeat assessment of the proposed Southborough Hub designs. Some of the Hub will be clad in this material.
All the councillors who had a vote on the planning committee on the application were from the Conservative Party. Cllr Joy Podbury representing Rusthall abstained. The following eleven Borough Councillors all supported the planning application:
Cllr Mrs Julia Soyke (Chairman) of Speldhurst & Bidborough
Cllr Barry Noakes (Vice-Chairman) of Goudhurst & Lamberhurst
Cllr Godfrey Bland of Hawkhurst & Sandhurst
Cllr Mrs Barbara Cobbold of Broadwater
Cllr Tom Dawlings of Benenden & Cranbrook
Cllr Sarah Hamilton of Paddock Wood (East)
Cllr Lawrence Heasman of Pantiles & St Mark’s
Cllr Carol Mackonochie of Capel
Cllr David Reilly of Pembury
Cllr Don Sloan of Culverden
Cllr Mrs Elizabeth Thomas of Paddock Wood (West)
The two Southborough councillors on the Borough Council planning committee had been involved in the decision on Southborough Town Council, so each made a speech, but couldn’t take part in the decision making discussion among councillors or vote. They were Bob Backhouse (Conservative in favour) and Graham Munn (Labour against).