Another dispute over basic facts has erupted between supporters and opponents of Southborough Council’s Hub plans – this time over the shape of the Ridgewaye fields.
The Borough’s Planning officer, Lynda Middlemiss, told the planning committee on Wednesday that there was a “hill” in the centre of the northern part of the Ridgewaye fields, which could be levelled off to create replacement soccer pitches for those lost to the new housing that is funding the Hub buildings.
Several local people this weekend described her descriptions as a “fantasy”, arguing instead that the northern Ridgewaye fields (pictured below) are basically flat, but slope away steeply towards the Ridgewaye lane. They argue that levelling would require planning permission for retaining walls to hold back earth so the sloping area can be flattened.
But Lynda Middlemiss told the committee: “There is absolutely no intention and no need to provide any retaining walls, simply a question of moving earth from one part of the pitches where they are presently raised to the area where the land slopes away.”
After last week’s committee meeting, objectors continue to dispute a large number of assertions by the Hub supporters including over the state of the Royal Victoria Hall, and whether the proposed new soccer pavillion and theatre are better or worse than the existing provision.
The playing field issue was discussed in detail because Ms Middlemiss had to ensure the committee wasn’t swayed by the “outright objection” to the scheme by Sport England and the Football Association. In the event, the planning committee thought Sport England’s concerns had been dealt with and they accepted the planning officer’s argument that new pitches could be easily created to replace those lost due to the new housing.
A plan of the varying descriptions of the northern Ridgewaye fields is below:
Ms Middlemiss stated at the meeting: “The important thing to understand is that there is no – from the proposals – there will be no loss of playing pitch capacity in terms of the number and types of pitches that could be provided on the site. There’s obviously a loss of land that is currently in playing field use. That’s always been envisaged in the Site Allocation Local Plan. But in terms of the impact that that has on local clubs to use the space as playing pitches, the proposals show that there won’t be any reduction in playing pitches”.
The planning officers report concluded: “The new sports pavilion, improvements to the playing pitch levels in parts of the site to increase of the playable area of the adjacent playing fields will increase the playing capacity and enhance the facilities offered here”.
Because Sport England are continuing to object, the matter is now referred to central government. It is not known if officials there at the National Planning Casework Unit will think the issues raised will be serious enough to “call in” the application so it is considered by a public enquiry.
If central government planners decide they don’t want to intervene, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council could grant planning permission in the next few weeks, although the Hub project team say that no demolition is likely to start until “the early summer.”
No professional survey appears to have been undertaken in coming to the conclusions on the pitches. Below is a view looking north over the top of the Yew Tree allotments, with the Ridgewaye lane and hedge on the right of the picture:
The FA made it clear they would only be satisfied if the replacement soccer pitches were provided before the two junior pitches were removed from use due to the building work. The Council Hub team estimate the levelling work to create new pitches would be done within 18 months.
Below is the existing layout of pitches on the Ridgewaye and Yew Tree fields, which Ms Middlemiss described as “2 senior pitches…4 Youth pitches…2 junior pitches and 4 mini-pitches:
Below is one of the proposed layouts of pitches after the loss of the two junior pitches to the far south west of the site when the housing is built:
Former Southborough mayor, Nick Blackwell, who was one of the objectors who spoke at the planning committee, told Southbrough News: “What was remarkable was the last-minute scrabbling around by the Project team to try and appease Sports England”.
Mr Blackwell, who is still a Labour town councillor, continued: “Why, when the plans have always included the loss of at least two football pitches did they submit proposals in the last few days that looked like they had been sketched out on the back of an envelope? They were unverified and failed to include even basic indications of size and allocation. It is obvious why Sports England remain unconvinced and are continuing with their outright objection.”
Meanwhile, the latest computerised drawings of the Community Hub suggest the building is taking on a more orange coloured palate (see below):
Mr Blackwell concluded: “Going forward we will now need to consider how we can best support Sports England in their objections. We will do everything we can to make sure this development does not become another, later-regretted, eyesore in our Borough.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Peter Oakford (pictured below), who’s has driven the project forward over several years has told the Kent on Sunday newspaper that the new theatre would include state-of-the-art equipment and a flexible hall and open space that could be used by the community for everything from weddings to live concerts.
Mr Oakford said: “To modernise the theatre, by law we’d need to completely bring it up to modern standards and that means everything but its four walls would have to be stripped down, costing a lot more money than knocking it down, so the easiest thing was to give the town a brand new theatre.”
Mr Oakford, who is from the Conservative Party, said the proposal would in fact increase the provision of football pitches on the site – something he says Sport England was unaware of when submitting its objection. He said: “We have worked to level off the entire field which means we actually get two more pitches than we currently have and the club is going to gain a state-of-the-art pavilion”.
Sport England says it was aware of the replacement pitch proposals but not enough work was done to see if the scheme was viable and so it was maintaining its objection.
The main Kent on Sunday paper contains an extended piece with Mr Oakford and a shortened version is available online at:
The full article can also be found by turning to page 12 of the digital pdf style version:
Southborough News will provide a full transcript of last Wednesday’s Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Planning Committee meeting (pictured above) that voted 11-0 to approve the Hub plans, so readers can decide for themselves how well all the issues were debated.
This link sends you to the transcript – there are still some gaps in the 1 1/2 hour recordinng as of Sunday 13th November. UPDATE WEDNESDAY: I have now also posted the audio on the following page, although the sound quality is not brilliant.