New Bus Depot Will Mean Improved Service for Southborough, says Arriva

The Arriva bus company says its new Tunbridge Wells bus depot will start operation in January, helping to overcome problems with many bus services through Southborough in recent weeks.

Steve Leonard (pictured below), who is Arriva’s General Manager in Tunbridge Wells, spoke to Southborough News at the new depot site, which is currently being built near John Lewis on the North Farm industrial estate.

Bus crop

Since the closure of Arriva’s old depot in St. John’s in the autumn, many buses have had to be stored overnight in Maidstone or at a temporary site in Tonbridge, causing considerable logistical difficulties.

The new Tunbridge Wells depot (pictured below on 8th December) will be fitted out with the latest equipment, provide offices for Arriva staff from around the region and have space for any expansion of bus routes.

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Mr Leonard said:  “With the new depot about to come online, work is already starting on revising the network to see what can be done to improve journeys and services. One of these issues is to see if we can reschedule services to see improvements such as more 402 services through Southborough at peak times.”

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Mr Leonard said Arriva was examining ways to meet the demands of both schools and the general public at peak times. He said Arriva would consult widely before making any changes, which would take some time.  And before any changes are implemented, 56 days notice has to be given to the traffic commissioner’s office in Leeds.

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The picture above shows the side of the depot which will house the Arriva staff offices, which is not expected to be finished for several weeks after the buses start to be housed in the new garage opposite (shown in top picture).

Mr Leonard said all options were being considered to improve routes, including improved ticket machines with contactless payment to speed up services that are currently slowed down by customers paying by cash.

He said “we need to rebuild trust” but he was hopeful that the opening of the new depot would be the start of significant improvements for customers and future customers.

Here are the current Monday to Friday services…
From SOUTHBOROUGH (Fountain stop by Victoria Rd) to Tonbridge:

0532m
0606, 0632m, 0646, 0651m
0715m, 0726, 0732m, (0740h, 0752k), 0755m
0812m, 0837m
0906m, 0916, 0926m, 0936, 0946m, 0956
and 6 buses at same times every hour until
1406m, 1416, 1424m, 1436, 1444m
1505m, 1525m, 1545m, 1551, 1555m
(1602w, 1605x) 1612m, 1627, 1631m, 1652m
1719m, 1727, 1739m, 1747, 1759m
1807, 1827m, 1831
1901, 1903m, 1924, 1942m, 1959
2008m, 2038m
2108m, 2138m
2238m

m indicates the number 7 service to and from Maidstone

School days only buses:
h indicates a 582 bus along the A26 to Hugh Christie School
k indicates a 229 Seaford bus service to Weald of Kent, which turns right up Pembury Rd
w indicates a 77 bus only on school days
x indicates a 502 bus only on school days

Other services are 402 running from Tunbridge Wells to Sevenoaks via Hildenborough

Here is the Monday to Friday service for returning London commuters (and Tonbridge people wanting to work in Southborough or Tunbridge Wells)…
From TONBRIDGE Quarry Hill to Southborough / Tunbridge Wells:

0551m
0607, 0621m, 0640, 0651m
0715m, 0730m, (0742b, 0753s, 0755a, 0758c)
0800, 0805m, 0834m, 0857m
0912m, 0931m, 0945m, 0947, 0957m
1007, 1017m, 1027, 1037m, 1047, 1057m
and 6 buses at same times every hour until
1507, 1517m, 1537m, 1558m
1620m, 1631, 1643m
1702m, 1724m, 1727, 1744m, 1758
1803m, 1812, 1821m, 1839m, 1857
1902m, 1918, 1929m, 1938, 1956, 1959m
2023, 2029m, 2045, 2059m
2123, 2159m
2259m

School days only buses:
b is 502 to Bennett Memorial School
s is 147 to Tunbridge Wells
a is 147 to Bennett Memorial School
c is 77 to Bennett Memorial School

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Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s “Biggest Ever” project approved

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has approved the new Civic Centre plans by 30 votes to 13,  with 3 abstentions. The vote by the full council means every household in the borough takes on £1,600 of debt.

Civic Centre 1

New council offices and a new theatre capable of hosting “West End” productions will be built on the edge of Calverley Grounds. The existing civic buildings are expected to be turned into residential flats.

The cost of servicing the £77million debt is estimated to be £60 per household per year but savings are planned to be made in waste collection contracts and cuts will be made to funding for citizens advice bureau and help for carers to offset those extra loan costs, so the council says council tax payers won’t pay any more.

Three opponents of the scheme from the public spoke at the meeting and were clapped from the public gallery. Three supporters from the public also spoke.

There was concern from several councillors that the scheme could mean the closure of the Hoopers department store. Hoopers appear not to want the scheme as it means the store loses its car park in order to provide access for the construction equipment for the new theatre.

An expensive compulsory purchase order is being considered for the Hoppers car park. This  would be funded by the council.

Southborough North’s Two Conservative Councillors At Odds Over Civic Complex

The two Conservative Councillors who represent voters in Southborough North continue to take different approaches to this Wednesday’s crucial Tunbridge Wells council vote on whether to take out a £77million loan to build a brand new Town Hall and Theatre.

The loan would represent £ 1,600 of new debt for every household in Tunbridge Wells and mean that the council tax would have to absorb £60 per household per year in interest payments on the loan.

One of Southborough North’s Conservative Borough Councillors, Joe Simmons, held an informal referendum in October in which 80 per cent of voters were against the scheme.

But this week, the other Conservative Councillor in the same ward, David Elliott (pictured below), told Southborough News that the local referendum in itself would not decide his vote.

Elliot crop

Cllr Elliott, who is also Chairman of Tunbridge Wells Conservatives, told Southborough News: “I have not indicated how I am going to vote on Wednesday, so you’ll just have to wait until the meeting. I’ve heard all the arguments for and against the proposals, both from Officers of the Council and my electorate.”

Cllr Elliott continued: “Joe Simmons’ referendum was sent out too early before the electorate had had a chance to hear all the arguments both for and against. He should have done it after the public meetings and briefings had taken place and not before. We are both members of the same political party representing the same ward (Southborough North). The first I heard about his referendum was when it was posted through my letterbox. I was never consulted.”

This week Joe Simmons (pictured below) Southborough News he would stick with his plan to vote against the Civic Complex plans in line with the wishes of voters as indicated by the referendum.

Simmons crop

Mr Simmons October referendum recorded 342 votes against the Civic Complex scheme and only 86 in favour. The turnout was 13 per cent.

You can read Tracey Moore putting her case in favour of the new Civic complex by clicking/tapping here

You can read Nicholas Pope putting the case against the scheme by clicking/tapping here

Meanwhile, the Tunbridge Wells Labour Party Chair, Hugo Pound, told Southborough News that the Party was against the scheme.  Mr Pound said: “Labour says that spending £90m plus to provide new council offices, an underground car park and a theatre is money spent on the wrong priorities. It is spending focused in Tunbridge Wells and paid for by taxpayers right across a borough that stretches from Benenden to Ashurst – where most people will never see the benefit.”

Mr Pound continued: “With Kent County Council cutting subsidies for up to 14 local bus services, and Borough Council slashing grants to local charities, and imposing new charges, this is the shape of cuts to come. It is a time when living standards continue to fall, when genuine affordable housing is out of reach, when parents are being asked for contributions to their children’s schooling, and when many roads are gridlocked and dangerously polluted. In view of this Tunbridge Wells Labour cannot support what can only be described as an out of touch and extravagant project which adds little to the lives of most ordinary voters.”

Critics Say Council Services Will Be Cut to Pay Back Loans For New Civic Centre

The Chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds, Nicholas Pope, has told Southborough News that “much better options have been ignored” in the rush to build on the edge of a listed park in the centre of Tunbridge Wells.

Nicholas Pope said: “The existing Town Hall and Assembly Hall theatre would make a wonderful renewed Town Hall and modern theatre with the right investment, and could even attract Heritage Lottery Fund support, reducing the cost to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. In 2015 this was the plan!”

Town hall cu 2

He argued: “Just take a look at what Hammersmith & Fulham Council are planning to do with their 1930s Town Hall in Hammersmith after a previous project was stopped because it was no longer financially viable. Now they are looking to revitalise their Town Hall, an iconic building from the 1930s, much like ours, and provide many different uses in the larger space they are creating.”

The proposed redevelopment in Hammersmith is illustrated below:

Hammersmith

Mr Pope believes “there could be some major changes in the political landscape” if Tunbridge Wells councillors vote this week to proceed with the project. A new group called Tunbridge Wells Alliance says it will be standing in seats at next year’s Borough Council election “to push through change” by releasing the grip of the Conservative Party on the Council.

Mr Pope (pictured below) says: “You might think I am anti-theatre and anti-progress. I am not. A better theatre would be wonderful for Tunbridge Wells, but what type of theatre and at what cost? £90 million is excessive for the Civic Complex and the theatre is a fixed seat 19th century design that offers no flexibility for future changes in theatre that new technologies are bringing in now, and will increasingly be used in live productions.”

Nick Pope crop

(Photo above by Ingrid Pope)

Mr Pope’s letter to Southborough News continues: “As chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds (shown below), my initial concern was, and still is, the damage to a Grade II Listed park. 5% will be dug up for the underground car park and covered over again, over 2% will be built on with an office building that will mainly be let out for commercial use, 66 trees will be removed, and the western edge of Calverley Grounds will change from a soft green boundary to an edifice of glass and concrete.

Calverley Grounds 2

He continues: “Initially, we were told the underground car park would not change the topology of Calverley Grounds, the park would be returned to the way it was, but now the land in the north west corner will be raised and the slope on the northern side of the valley much steeper than before. This is not the original promise.”

“Additionally, if the council is going to take some land from the park, it should automatically trigger some form of investment, as compensation, in the rest of the park, and this should be included in the Civic Centre project budget. There are no plans to invest in the rest of the park, and, as an example, the bowling pavilion next to the new playground, which was due to be refurbished at the same time as the community funded Calverley Adventure Grounds was built, has not happened.”

“The tennis courts, the picnic area, the paths and much more need to be upgraded and improved. The park needs a masterplan to help decide what work should take place (e.g. re-routing of paths, review of planting, upgrading of the tired sporting facilities) and a budget put aside to undertake this work. Without a budget set aside to improve the the rest of the park and the failure to refurbish the pavilion, how can we trust the council?”

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Mr Pope also cites a survey from 2015 on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s own website in which 55 per cent of respondents said they would NOT be prepared to pay an extra £ 10 a year on their council tax to fund “a significant project such as a theatre”.

Survey 2015

Mr Pope argues that: “Councillor Tracy Moore’s enthusiastic stories about how much residents want the new theatre are not true. All evidence says Councillor Moore is wrong and is caught up in her own enthusiasm for the hugely expensive project and her role on Cabinet to sell the project to the residents of Tunbridge Wells.”

Mr Pope also states that: “The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, (shown below) which is repeatedly used as a model of what a new theatre could do for Royal Tunbridge Wells, is not as financially sound as we have all been led to believe.”

Marlowe theatreHe states: “The theatre in Canterbury has required massive financial support for the last few years, averaging £1 million pounds for the last 3, significantly more than the current Assembly Hall Theatre subisidy of £250,000, or the subsidy that has been put in the budget for the new theatre, £350,000 per year. If the Marlowe Theatre is profitable, why is Canterbury Council handing it over to a charitable trust rather than using the profits to benefit residents?”

Mr Pope continues: “Not only is the subsidy likely to be much larger than expected, but also the cost of the theatre is more than £60 million when you take into account public realm work, inflation, consultancy costs, and the need to provide a new car park. £60 million is more than twice the cost of the Marlow Theatre, which cost £26 million.”

He concludes: “And we are told that is it cheaper to build a new theatre than to redevelop the existing Assembly Hall Theatre building, for this development, it is clearly not true. The Shellard Forumula has often been used to tell us how a new theatre will boost the local economy by £14 million or more, but the realistic figure is estimated at £4 million. The Shellard Formula is flawed and has been strongly criticised by the Arts Council.”

Town Hall crop

Mr Pope concludes that: “The funding of this large project would be a massive strain on the council and ultimately on residents.” He says the Borough Council’s central government funding is being cut every year and will become a “negative grant” in 2020 when TWBC will have to pay £610,000 back to central government, requiring “more service cuts and increasing costs of other services”.

He asks: “Should we really be cutting important services to help fund a project that some are calling a vanity project, and that will only be enjoyed by the few who can afford to go to the theatre?”