Conservatives in Southborough have denied that there is any financial risk to the Council after the Council agreed to spend £100,000 from reserves to speed up the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and the Council offices.
Speaking at last month’s full Council meeting that voted to approve the accelerated demolition plan, Cllr Peter Oakford of the Conservatives revealed that up to one million pounds would soon be available to the Council from the sale of the Speldhurst Road allotment site.
Southborough’s Labour group strongly opposed the quick demolition and says the £1million windfall from the allotment land sale should have been used to refurbish the existing Victorian theatre.
The £100,000″forward funding” is allowing demolition of the Town’s newly designated “Heritage Asset” (pictured above in Friday’s snow) before any money has been raised from developers. The flattening of the site is expected to begin in March.
It is understood that tenders have already gone out for demolition companies to bid for the job. The historic recording of the Royal Victoria Hall, which was opened in 1900, has already been completed. It was arranged by Kent County Council officers.
Cllr Oakford said the Council would receive the money from the sale of the Speldhurst allotments next year and that would help bolster the finances allowing the “forward funding” which means building work on the Hub could start in the spring and be well underway before any bad weather next winter.
But Labour’s Cllr Nick Blackwell said: “The Labour Group has always proposed that the funds from the sale of the Speldhurst allotment land could have gone into conserving and modernising the Royal Victoria Hall. We could have had the best of both worlds: an adaptable and fit-for-purpose RVH and no loss to our valuable green spaces.”
During the December Council meeting, Cllr Oakford was asked if demolishing the existing Council facilities was prudent before the revenue from the sale of the Ridgewaye playing field land was known. His reply at the meeting was recorded by Southborough News and is provided here:
The Southborough Council staff have been given until the end of February to move out but it has not been decided yet where they will go. They have been offered a very small space at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
While the Town Council staff currently have 55 square metres of space, the only offer they have is to move into a 15 square metre “attic” room in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council offices.
Efforts are still being made to find a suitable site in Southborough for the 18 months the council will be homeless before the new Hub is built.
In its role managing the cemetery, Southborough Council staff have to speak to families who have lost relatives and it is highly undesirable for those families to have to travel to Tunbridge Wells to find the Town Council in a room not accessible by a lift.
Meanwhile, voters in the north of Southborough will have a chance to give their verdict on Conservative Party’s Hub development plans at a by-election on February 9th.
The Conservative Candidate is to be Ian Kinghorn, who spoke strongly in favour of the current Hub scheme at the key planning committee meeting in his role as vice-Chairman of the Southborough Society. He told the planners that the Southborough Society wanted the Royal Victoria Hall demolition to continue. Mr Kinghorn lives in West Park Avenue in Southborough.
Labour have chosen not to field a candidate, but Mr Kinghorn (pictured in the green and black shirt in the youtube video above) will be opposed by the Liberal Democrats. The LibDem candidate is Allen David Lear of Ruscombe Close in Southborough.
A petition last year signed by 1,300 local people (800 from Southborough) argued that the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall was not the right development option.
The Conservatives say the majority of Southborough’s 8,400 electorate approve of the demolition. In his election leaflet, Mr Kinghorn says the Hub will be renamed before it opens.
In his statement on the Council finances last month (see youtube video above), Cllr Peter Oakford said: “We [Southborough Town Council] will “forward fund” the £100,000 for the site clearance as a loan. That will come back 3 or 4 months into next year. We also have the sale of Speldhurst Road allotments going through next year, which will bring in another £750,000 to a million pounds into this council. Plus – at the end of the project – we have the £70,000 that we spent [initially on the Hub project] coming back into the Council.”
Cllr Oakford continued: “There is not a financial risk to this. Our finances are fine. The argument about Southborough pre-funding £100,000: Kent County Council have pre-funded well over a million pounds to date on this project. So their risk is huge compared to ours. They have bought the Tesco’s land. They are completing on the Lloyds’ land [Lloyd’s back garden, not Lloyd’s building]. They have put a lot more money in for surveys etc that are going on….We are less than 10 per cent.”
Cllr Oakford concluded: “It’s the right thing to do. It gets us a head start. It means we can start building the Hub in the spring and the summer months as opposed to the late summer/winter when you get delays. It will start the project well and may give us a really good boost.”
Labour’s Nick Blackwell stated: “We are still we waiting to get sight of the finances of the project despite repeated requests. And from the recent comments of Cllrs Oakford and Lester it would seem the public will now only get a basic community hall. Any enhancements to the specification will be through the sale of the Former Speldhurst Road allotments site. This is after the continual mantra of the Conservative group that the project has to be self funding. They seem intent on selling off every asset STC owns to satisfy their vanity project.”
Cllr Blackwell continued: “One of their Councillors has described the proposed Hub as a place where residents will go to eat ice cream. I cannot imagine what a council that is more out of touch would look like. It might be funny if it wasn’t costing the town a colossal amount of money and we didn’t have to live with the long term consequences of their poor decision making.”