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.
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.