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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”