Southborough’s Angry Voices at Annual Town Meeting 2017

The Annual Town Meeting held on Wednesday gave an opportunity for ordinary residents to explain their concerns with the two hours dominated by the Hub project and anger at the replacement of garages with more housing.

The full audio of the meeting is available here in 5 parts.  LISTENING TIP FOR iPHONES: Click on the words “Listen in Browser” in the pictures below.

The first section (below) lasts 9 mins and is where the Chairman of Southborough Town Council, David Elliott, gave his report. He explained he often used his “fantastic” electric bicycle to get to many Town functions.

Mr Elliott said the key event of the year was the granting of planning permission for the Southborough Hub and he said he was satisfied that “proper public consultation has taken place” over the development. He argued the Hub “will revitalise the centre of Southborough”.

The second audio section lasts 11 mins and starts with the report by Cllr Sheridan Bowie, who is the Chairman of Planning and Transportation Committee.  He explained that his committee had often objected to planning applications as overdevelopment but: “sadly in almost all cases, Tunbridge Wells have ignored our comments and approved planning.” He also said there had been “little success” in improving the bus service.  Cllr Glenn Lester’s report (begins at 1 min 40 secs) on Parks and Cemetery then explained there was new help for the fish in Holden Pond and there were new fences and a crazy golf facility in Pennington Park.

After 4 mins 25 secs, Cllr Peter Oakford (pictured above) begins his report as Chairman of Finance and General Purposes Committee. At 9 mins on the recording, he argues there is still “a small minority not supportive of the (Hub) project.” Cllr Oakford said the KCC project manager Jon White had taken “a great deal of abuse, but has always acted with utter professionalism to get us where we are today.”

Cllr Oakford announced a 2% increase in the Town’s council tax, which is a rise of £2.17 a year.

The third section deals with the Southborough Hub and lasts 30 mins. It starts with a progress report by Glenn Lester and then questions start at 7 mins.

Maxwell Macfarlane asked about forward planning for the management of the Hub theatre. Another resident asked why no survey or study had been carried out into the need for a new theatre before deciding to build it.

The fourth section is a continuation of the questions about the Hub and lasts another 32 mins:

The first question is about how the extra housing will impact on the traffic. KCC’s Jon White said “the car parking has been massively increased” in the housing development. Martin Betts pointed out that no business plan has been published and asked “how much is this going to cost?”

The fifth section is the 20 mins of general questions which followed:

They start with questions about cars parked on pavements and there is a very heated section about demolishing garages and replacing them with more new housing. After 5 minutes, one resident is asked to “calm down”. Then after 7 mins the exchange goes: “I think you’ve made your point…No, I haven’t!…We have lost 93 garages already, we are about to lose another 20”.

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Key Local Election Vote for Southborough on Thursday

Residents in Southborough will go to the polls on Thursday 4th May to vote for their Kent County Councillor, with opposition parties attempting to reduce the Conservative vote by capitalising on local concern about new house building plans and the decline of the town’s shops and facilities.

In the last week, the last cafe in Southborough, Cafe Bliss, said it would close by July. Martin Betts (pictured below) is standing for Labour and his election leaflet describes what he calls “two years of chaos” in Southborough.

Martin Betts final

Mr Betts argues that the Conservatives should not be demolishing the town’s heritage asset, the Royal Victoria Hall, and does not welcome the Hub development in its current form.  Mr Betts says residents have been “kept in the dark” and warns of the consequences of 65 homes being built on Southborough’s Ridgewaye playing fields, which he fears will lead to more traffic congestion.

By contrast, the Conservative candidate, Peter Oakford (pictured below) has been the pivotal figure in championing the Southborough Hub scheme, as he is a leading figure on Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Southborough Town Council, which have all agreed to merge their land holdings to take the plans forward.

Peter-Oakford crop

In Mr Oakford’s election leaflet he argues: “The Hub will create a vibrant and all-inclusive facility at the heart of our town.  The main facilities will be a new medical centre, fully flexible theatre/hall, modern library and community space.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate,  Marguerita Morton (pictured below) in a recent newsletter argued: “The planned Southborough Hub presents a key opportunity to provide high quality local services and benefit the whole community… I want to ensure … that it is a well designed, beautiful and modern building for the community fit for the 21st century”.

Marguerita

Ms Morton continued: “if there was any excess monies from the sale of land, they should put it into a community fund for the benefit of the people of Southborough and that they could save money by not building such an ambitious town centre building thereby making it less important to build 69 new homes behind the hub”.

The Hub scheme (pictured below) will take at least three years to complete and cost several million pounds, paid for by the sale of a section of the Ridgewaye playing fields:

Hub Nov pics view

The existing Southborough library building will be demolished. A plan of the new buildings is shown below:

Hub Nov plan small

No election leaflets have been delivered to Southborough News’s address from the UKIP or Green candidates for this election. Voting on Thursday 4 May 2017 is between 7am and 10pm. The full list of candidates in the County Council elections this year is:

BETTS, Martin Labour
HOSKIN, Anthony Green
MORTON, Marguerita Lib Dem
O’SHEA, William UKIP
OAKFORD, Peter Conservative

The table below shows the levels of support for the parties in the last County Council election in 2013, when UKIP was polling strongly at a national level and came second.

KCC Vote in 2013: TUN WELLS North
Peter Oakford Conservative 1373 35%
Brian Ransley UKIP 958 24%
Ian Carvell Labour 672 17%
Trevor Poile Lib Dem 666 17%
Phyllis Leslie Green 262 7%

 

Pledge that Southborough Hub Means “No Increase” in Council Tax Bills

At this year’s Southborough Town Meeting, residents were given a pledge that their Council tax bill would not rise as a result of the Southborough Hub development.

Cllr Peter Oakford (left in picture below) told the meeting that: “The worst case scenario (for the theatre hire revenue) is based on 50 per cent of the revenue that used to be generated by the Royal Victoria Hall and – at that level – the facility – with what is coming in (in rent) from the doctors and the other areas – generates enough money that there will not need to be an increase in the precept for the Council tax.  Absolutely that’s what the numbers have said.”

P1110297

Cllr Glenn Lester (pictured centre) said the Hub building work would start “late this year”.  He said no decision had been made about what would happen to the current library site. It could be reused by Kent County Council or see 10 new homes built there.

Cllr Oakford revealed that “we have had some offers way above what we anticipated we were going to have for that piece of land (on the playing fields), which gives us extra money to put into the development, which perhaps means we get some better finishes than we thought.”

He continued: “As soon as the deal is signed, the numbers will be made public.” After questioning, it was clarified that the impending land deal is “subject to planning”, so no revenue will be received by the Councils from the developers until a final housing scheme for the playing fields is approved by planners, which is unlikely to happen quickly.

Cllr Oakford was asked why the detailed business plan hadn’t been given to Southborough Town Councillors to scrutinise.  Cllr Oakford argued that no business plan has been published because the information was “commercially sensitive” and if the rents they expected from the coffee shop and doctors facility were published then that would reduce what tenants would offer.

P1110289

Cllr Dianne Hill (7th from left in picture) from the Labour group responded by saying “I am supposed to be representing these people (in High Brooms) and how can I represent them if I don’t know what’s going on?”

Southborough resident Maxwell Macfarlane asked what forward planning is being made about the management of the Hub’s theatre. A representative from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council confirmed that staff from the Assembly Hall would run the new Southborough Theatre for the first two years “to try to understand what kind of shows might be popular, what kind of demand there is” and then Southborough Town Council would then make a decision who they wanted to run the theatre after that.

P1110288Around 70 members of the public attended this year’s event at Southborough Primary School. Other residents expressed concerns about:

  • increased traffic from all the new housing developments
  • the A26 being blocked by Hub construction traffic
  • possible increased fees for Ridgewaye Soccer Club as a result of renting a pavillion from Southborough Town Council when their current clubhouse is rent free
  • Developers building new homes where garages were, so worsening parking issues
  • What would happen to the existing community coffee shop, Cafe Bliss, if – as is hoped – the Hub attracts a branded coffee shop

Links to the audio from the meeting will be posted on this site over the weekend.