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

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