Southborough Council Holds Final Meeting at its Home of 140 Years

A rousing speech from a former mayor, Richard Blackwell, began the historic final council meeting of Southborough Town Council to be held in its building in London Road, which is about to be demolished to make way for the Hub.

Richard Blackwell (pictured below) served on Southborough Council for 31 years from 1972, and his speech drew applause from councillors of all parties. This revised report ends with 2 new links to video highlights of the historic meeting.

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Mr Blackwell said: “It is probably 140 years since the Local Government Board met here.  It was the meeting room in which the first Urban District Council met.  I was privileged to be the mayor at our centenary in 1994 when we celebrated with a magnificent carnival through the town, a church service and a flypast.”

He pointed out that Southborough goes back to the 12th Century and is therefore older than Tunbridge Wells. He remarked: “One of the saddest days was in 1974… when we lost the autonomy we had as an Urban District Council.   The old council built 850 social homes in this town. They built a magnificent park, Pennington Grounds.  They claimed the common for the people of Southborough – people thought at the time that £10,000 was a lot of money for a piece of land. What a treasure it is today!”

Here you can watch Richard Blackwell’s speech in full :

He continued: “Sadly we have lost too much in this town. We have lost our secondary school, our police station, our ambulance station, three banks, two building societies.  One wonders what we are going to lose next. But it is up to you friends, as the representatives of this council to fight for this council. We have to put politics aside, put people first and have a vision.”

Mr Blackwell, who last year dubbed the new Southborough Hub a “plastic lunch box” concluded: “We have lost the argument as this building and next door is coming down, but always hold before you that we want the very best for our generations which are to come in this town but never forget the debt we owe to those who worked in this chamber.”

council-crop

Councillors posed above for a final photo in their old home.

At the meeting Councillors rejected a motion to start work on a neighbourhood plan for Southborough to try to influence the planned major housing development that the current government plans for the whole of south east England. Paddock Wood has apparently decided to consult local people on a plan, but Cllr Oakford said doing so in Southborough might duplicate efforts being made by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Jason old RVHBelow are 20 mins of video highlights from the historic meeting in the old venue (above) which I filmed, edited and then uploaded to YouTube. If you care about where you live and its future development, do take a look.  Regrettably, I will not have the time to make every meeting transparent in this way, so please do make time to watch these speeches from the people that represent you. Everyone who spoke is shown speaking.

Here is the second part:

Any comments? Do submit them to this blog or email martin.webber10536@gmail.com

Developers wanting to build housing on the section of the Ridgewaye fields that is raising the money to build the Hub and the demolish the Royal Victoria Hall and council offices are being invited to bid for the land. Applications through Bracketts of Tunbridge Wells:

http://bit.ly/2mjrUux

 

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Conservatives Hold Seat in By-election

Thursday’s by-election in Southborough North followed the usual voting patterns, with the Conservatives holding the seat with 60% of the vote – identical to the share that they achieved in a similar by-election in the same seat three years ago.

The result appeared to represent the endorsement the Council wanted for its plans to replace all the Town’s public buildings. However, the chilly damp weather resulted in a low turnout of just 23% – half that of the by-election three years ago that was held in warmer summer weather.

One Conservative Councillor immediately commented that spending Council funds on the February by-election was “a disgraceful waste of public money.” The winning Conservative secured the support of just 14 % of those who could have voted in Southborough North.

The February 9th 2017 by-election result was:

Feb 2017 Votes %
Ian Kinghorn Con 444 60
Allen Lear Lib Dem 295 40
TOTAL 739

There were 5 rejected ballot papers: one multiple vote and 4 blank.

Mr Kinghorn is pictured below after his win in the centre with Cllr Peter Oakford on the left of picture and the current Southborough mayor, Cllr David Elliot on the right.

ian-kinghorn-v1

All the passionate arguments on both sides of the Hub debate over the past year would seem to have made little impact on the wider electorate.  The percentage support for the Conservatives was identical to the Southborough North by-election in May 2014, which saw the election of Bill LeGrys (Result below). His resignation over council “infighting” in the debates over the Southborough Hub led to the by-election.

May 2014 Votes %
Bill LeGrys Con 843 60
Jane Hill Lab 310 22
Jo Wright Lib Dem 252 18
TOTAL 1405

Although the Conservatives obtained 400 fewer votes this time than this comparable by-election before the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall was proposed, the opposition also lost 267 votes from that 2014 vote.

The Liberal Democrat candidate this time, Allen Lear, told voters he had signed the petition, “Southborough Deserves Better”, demanding a rethink of the Hub plans:

http://bit.ly/2eDPwmR

However, the Liberal Democrat campaign leaflet was equivocal saying: “Allen has supported past campaigns to keep the Royal Victoria Hall (pictured below) as part of the Hub development. He now feels the scheme should proceed as planned.”

stage

The victorious Conservative candidate, Ian Kinghorn, had – as vice-Chairman of the Southborough Society – spoken in person at the crucial planning meeting to help persuade the planning committee to approve the demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall, even though the 100 year-old theatre was recently given the official status of a “heritage asset”.

hub-nov-pic-2

Mr Kinghorn stated in his election leaflet: “I am pleased that through the tireless efforts of local Conservatives we now have the opportunity to give the residents of Southborough an all-inclusive multi-functional community facility (pictured above)..which will put the heart back into our community and will be something that we and future generations can be proud of.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative Councillor Nasir Jamil posted on Facebook after the result: “Apparently the Lib Dem Town Council candidate was away on holiday for part of the election campaign and he didn’t bother to turn up for the count. This by election did not need to be called as we could have co-opted Ian Kinghorn onto the town council by agreement. The Lib Dem’s called the by election which has cost the Town Council £5,000 which would have been better spent on the Southborough Hub. Disgraceful waste of public money…”

Also on Facebook, Labour’s Councillor Jason Reeves responded saying: “I thought that democracy applied to Southborough Town Council, and sometimes that means asking the people who they want to represent them. Whether the candidate is on holiday or not is irrelevant as perhaps they made plans before the election was called…If you are worried about wasting money, then why not focus on the wasteful council spending that you have some say over?”

Trevor Poile of the Liberal Democrats commented: “It is disappointing not to win but our share of the vote held up at just under 40% compared to the by-election in 2015”.

By-election Vote to Test Support for Southborough Hub Plans

Conservatives in Southborough will be hoping for a ringing endorsement from voters for their far-reaching plans for the Southborough Hub development when polls open on Thursday, but there are signs that the Liberal Democrats may have a chance of winning the seat.

The by-election vote in the Southborough North seat is happening because the Conservative Bill Legrys resigned his seat late last year, saying he was “fed up” with the infighting in the council over the decision to replace all of the Town’s public buildings.

The Conservatives would normally regard the seat as safe territory, but the opposition to the design of the new Hub (shown below) and the planned demolition of the much loved “heritage asset” Royal Victoria Hall has made the vote a fascinating contest.

hub-nov-pics-1Southborough News went door-to-door on Saturday and Sunday to try to assess opinion and still found little evidence of support for the new Hub designs proposed by the Conservatives.  When 38 people were asked if they approved of the current Hub design including the demolition of the RVH, the results were:  Approve 4, Disapprove 22, Don’t Know 12.

Southborough News found 6 Conservative supporters, 19 Liberal Democrat supporters, while 19 people said they “didn’t know”, suggesting many people are still to be persuaded how they should use their vote on Thursday.

Southborough News has approached both the Liberal Democrat Candidate, Allen Lear, and the Conservative candidate, Ian Kinghorn, for an interview, but neither has responded.

rvh-all-img_0765Many voters on Saturday expressed their surprise that funds were not being spent on refurbishing the Royal Victoria Hall (shown above in a photo from the 1970s before the original frontage was removed) and a few said they were regular Conservative voters who would switch to Liberal Democrat as a protest at the way the development was progressing.

The Conservatives say their plan will deliver a brand new Community Hall, a cafe combined with a new library and a new medical centre and it will become a new “heart” for the community. The current designs are opposed by Labour and the arguments of both sides are detailed in past posts and videos on this blog. Key articles are listed here:

“Superb” Royal Victoria Hall has “better acoustics than any theatre I have played in”

Vibrant Focal Point or Plastic Lunch Box?

Backstage Pictures of Victorian Features that Remain in Royal Victoria Hall

Southborough Society Backs Demolition of Victoria Hall

Interview with leading Southborough Conservative, Cllr Peter Oakford

Interview with Head of Labour Group in Southborough, Cllr Nick Blackwell

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

In a comment posted on Southborough News late last year, Julie Levack (also known as actress and TV presenter Julie Kirvan) who’s the owner of Southborough’s Grade II listed Georgian Country House, Holden House (shown below) stated: “The Royal Victoria Hall is a beautiful theatre in a prominent position that should be saved for future generations. If it is, as suggested, more cost effective to restore than rebuild I can’t understand why this option is not being considered.”

holden-house-best-2

Mrs Levack continued: “As the owner of a large historic property in Southborough which is not only ‘older’ but was in a ‘far worse state of repair’ than the theatre having been derelict for years, I have proven that restoration of our town’s historical sites is not only possible but is important for the future generations of our town. I personally felt a huge weight of support from locals to restore Holden House and felt a huge responsibility to do it properly as the Community deserved it”.

She concluded: “How many towns have lost buildings of historical value to ‘ugly modern box buildings’ which 20 years later look dated and everyone regrets losing the original. I understand some opinions to develop areas of the town and to improve much needed facilities but feel that the ‘Theatre’ should be restored back to her former glory. The pictures I have seen of The Hub are thoroughly un-impressive and do not sit architecturally with the rest of the High Street and I feel any design of new buildings in that vicinity should be sympathetic to their surroundings”.

In the last comparable Town by-election vote in Southborough North in May 2014, the Conservatives polled 60 % of the votes.

MAY 2014 Votes %
Bill LeGrys Con 843 60
Jane Hill Lab 310 22
Jo Wright Lib Dem 252 18
TOTAL 1405

In the same geographic constituency eighteen months ago, the Liberal Democrat was defeated by just 49 votes in a Borough Council vote, when UKIP were also standing.

SEP 2015 TWBC Votes %
Joe Simmonds Con 483 44
Trevor Poile Lib D 434 39
William O’Shea UKIP 188 17
TOTAL 1105

Only a third of the Southborough area will be involved in the by-election.  The area of the Southborough North constituency is shown below.southboroughnorth