Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Southborough News. If you take a walk to Southborough Common today, then you might see this Christmas tree – spontaneously decorated by local residents!

p1100875

Advertisements

February 9th Vote Confirmed as Demolition Funds Secured

A plan to hasten the flattening of Southborough Town Council offices and Royal Victoria Hall was passed 10 to 6 in a full council meeting on Thursday evening.

£100,000 will be lent by the Town Council from its reserves to Kent County Council to fund demolition to clear the site by the spring.

p1100894-v2

The plan was strongly opposed by the six opposition councillors who say that the sale of the land on the Ridgewaye fields should be agreed before demolition and redevelopment starts, but they were outvoted by the 10 Conservatives who attended.

One long standing supporter of keeping the Royal Victoria Hall, Lee Ireland, had called for opponents of the current Hub scheme to go to the council offices and make their feelings known and a dozen members of the public attended but no one spoke in the public session.

Meanwhile, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has confirmed the election timetable for the by-election in North Ward following the unexpected resignation of Conservative councillor Bill LeGrys:
Thu 5 Jan: Notice of Election published
4pm Fri 13 Jan: Deadline for Nominations
Mon 16 Jan: Names of candidates published
Thu 9 Feb: Election held

Only two people are needed to nominate a candidate. There is still plenty of time for residents to obtain postal votes if they think they will not be able to reach the polling station on Thursday 9th February.

Polling cards will be sent out to residents of the ward, which is one of the 3 wards that cover Southborough and High Brooms Town Council. The total cost to the rate payers of the town is thought to be around £ 5,000.

To emphasise this clearly, there is no vote in 2/3 of the Southborough Town Council area, just the North.

The following motion was approved at Thursday’s meeting having been put forward by the Conservative deputy of Southborough Town Council, Councillor Glenn Lester: 
“That Southborough Town Council (STC) forward fund £100k to Kent County Council (KCC) in order to assist in progressing the Southborough Hub development including site clearance, subject to confirmation from KCC that the funds will be paid back following the successful disposal of the residential land.

Furthermore that STC council services be re-located based on the Collaboration Agreement as a matter of priority and that the representative of the board and the town clerk be given delegated authority to resolve any other matters to ensure that these outcomes are deliverable”

The following motion was put forward by Labour’s Councillor Blackwell, but rejected:

“That this council implements the advice of the Theatres Trust and agrees to undertake an Advisory Review of the Southborough Hub development conducted by leading professionals in the field. It agrees to undertake this process before moving to RIBA Stage 4 in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the new theatre and shared-space community buildings.”

More details of the meeting and video will be posted after Christmas. No plan has been agreed on what will happen to council staff, services or meetings after February when demolition starts but various options are being considered.

Planning permission will be formally granted at the end of January when final legal agreements on developer contributions are expected to be drawn up.

A recording exercise of features in the Royal Victoria Hall is expected to happen in January, which was one of the planning conditions. It will be done under guidelines set by Historic England.

Southborough Hub Gets Final Planning Approval from Government

The Southborough Hub Planning Application has been approved by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, despite the objections of Sport England to the loss of recreation space.

The decision of Mr Javid (pictured below) was expected as central government generally only intervenes in cases of “national significance”. Mr Javid could have overruled the local planning authority and “called in” the application for it to be examined by an independent public inquiry .

sajid_javid_16

It is understood that the outright objections from Sport England and the Football Association to the current Hub scheme remained and were considered by the central government planning casework officer, but their objections were not considered important enough to warrant a “call in.”

A letter sent by Karen Partridge, a Planning Manager at the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council  dated 19th December says:

“I refer to your email of 29 November referring to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (“The Secretary of State”) an application for planning permission for the above development. The Secretary of State has carefully considered the case against call-in policy, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement by Nick Boles on 26 October 2012. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.”

The statement continues: “The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible. In deciding whether to call in the application, the Secretary of State has considered his policy on calling in planning applications. This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead him to conclude, in his opinion that applications should be called in. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in the application. He is content that the application should be determined by the local planning authority.

It ends: “In considering whether to exercise the discretion to call in the application, the Secretary of State has not considered the matter of whether the application is EIA Development for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. The local planning authority responsible for determining these applications remains the relevant authority responsible for considering whether these Regulations apply to these proposed developments and, if so, for ensuring that the requirements of the Regulations are complied with.”

 

By-election Vote Called as Councillor Condemns “Outrageous” Secrecy

Voters in the north of Southborough will have a chance to give their verdict on the ruling Conservative Party’s plans for  a modern “Hub” building in the town in a by-election, which is likely to be held on February 9th.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat on Southborough Town Council, Trevor Poile, has told Southborough News it is “outrageous” that councillors have not been able to view the business plan for the Hub to allow them to assess independently if the Hub scheme is workable.

The by-election was triggered by Cllr Poile (pictured below) who submitted the necessary ten signatures for a public election.  Sometimes councillors are replaced by agreement among existing councillors without a public vote if a single seat suddenly becomes vacant.

trevor-use

The vote will only take place in the Southborough North ward, which is usually a Conservative stronghold. The seat became vacant after the resignation of Councillor Bill LeGrys three weeks ago. Mr LeGrys said he was leaving as he was fed up with the infighting in the council over the proposed Southborough Hub.

It is not clear when nominations close for candidates. The election is organised by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, who’s election team couldn’t be contacted as they were “away for training” for three days.

hub-nov-pics-1

The Southborough Hub scheme (artist’s impression above) remains hugely controversial. It is still being opposed by Sport England due to the loss of playing field space, while many local people maintain any new development should have been designed around the existing Royal Victoria Hall.

A petition recently signed by 1,300 people wanted the old Hall retained (pictured below before its frontage was overhauled in 1977), but was ignored by planning committee in Tunbridge Wells. The application is now being considered by central government.

Cllr Poile says he personally believes in keeping the Hall, although the view of the Liberal Democrat who will be standing in the forthcoming by-election may not be the same. The name of the Liberal Democrat candidate may not be revealed until nominations close.

rvh-all-img_0765

A council meeting on Thursday 22nd December is expected to discuss a controversial Conservative plan to borrow £ 100,000 to fund immediate demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the existing council offices. The motion will be strongly opposed by Cllr Poile and the five Labour members.

Mr Poile told Southborough News: “I’d like to keep the Hall, but if the Hall has to be demolished I would want the land sale to go through first, so you have got the money to fund the demolition”.

He continued: “What worries me is if you demolish the Hall and the council offices first, and then there is some sort of delay in implementing the planning application or selling the land or whatever, then you have unnecessarily made the town council homeless for a longer period than is necessary.”

rvh-sign-img_0752

Trevor Poile also believes it is wrong that only two people on Southborough Town Council, the Conservatives Glenn Lester and Peter Oakford, have had access to the detailed business plan for the Hub. Several Conservative councillors have also expressed their disappointment at the secrecy involved.

Cllr Poile said: “The councillors haven’t been shown the figures in the business plan. While I can understand it has to be kept confidential from the general public, as a town councillor, I have not been shown the business plan with the figures in it. I think it is outrageous that we are making decisions based on a business plan with no figures in.”

oakford-new

Cllr Oakford (pictured above), the Conservative who negotiated the Hub plan between all the landowners involved, told Southborough News last month that the numbers in the business plan had to be kept confidential in order to get the best offers for the land.

Cllr Oakford said: “From day one, this project has to be self-financing through the sale of the piece of land that’s going to be used for residential. If we say it is going to cost X to build the Hub, whoever is going to buy that land, knows exactly how much money we need and that will limit the offers that are placed on that piece of land. So I am sure people understand that we don’t want to say that the Hub is going to cost X, because the value of the land is X”.

He continued: “What we want to do is maximise the value of the land.  The more money that we get from the land, the more enhancements we can put into the Hub as we build it. So that’s the reason that – at this moment in time – there is commercial sensitivity around the overall construction costs.”

Are Any of the Walls of the Royal Victoria Hall Collapsing?

I have just posted a video update to youtube (click below) recapping the key debate over whether the Royal Victoria Hall should be refurbished or demolished, as part of the development plans.

Cllr Peter Oakford insists an actual wall of the RVH is “bowed”, making a new build the only option. Meanwhile Cllr Nick Blackwell says surveyors’ reports show the bowed wall in question to be definitely not part of the RVH.

The same video was published to Facebook on the New Old Tunbridge Wells Photos page.