Southborough Town Council will meet tonight to be shown revised plans for the Southborough Hub development by Cllr Ian Kinghorn, who has told Southborough News that “these are exciting times for Southborough and we can at long last see the regeneration of Southborough”.
But Cllr Kinghorn (pictured below) confirmed that the revised designs must go back for planning approval, adding a further potential delay to the project. Meanwhile, the plan for a cafe in the Hub has also now been definitely dropped, something that would have yielded rental income for the council.
The public are being encouraged to attend tonight’s meeting at Southborough School in Broomhill Park Road at 7pm, where the Council’s Conservative majority is expected to nod through the updated scheme, even though the new plans won’t be published in full until the day after the meeting.
It is now nearly two years since the original scheme to build a combined library, theatre, doctor surgery, football pavillion and home for the Town Council was passed at a planning meeting in Tunbridge Wells. Councillors on the planning committee ignored a petition signed by 1,300 local people who wanted to save the Local Heritage Asset, the Royal Victoria Hall theatre, and argued most people in Southborough wanted something new in the town.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Southborough Town Councillor Ian Kinghorn said: “The re-design was never about starting the project again, it was about refining the current scheme that we already had and sticking as close as possible to what was already consented. To that end, I am pleased with what the architects have done and consultation with the public can now start and will be based on the planning process, with any further minor refinements happening once we receive feedback.”
The architect Ptolemy Dean (shown below), who lives in Wadhurst and co-presented BBC2’s popular “Restoration” series, said at the time the original planned Southborough Hub scheme was “poor”.
Mr Dean, who serves on the National Trust Architectural Panel, told Southborough News two years ago: “Southborough has a rich architectural tradition. The proposed design might be anywhere, and would have been enriched by the retention of the existing historic building.”
There is speculation that the original plans to use plastic cladding on the new Hub may be dropped in favour of more traditional brick cladding.
The original design statement from Hub architects Pick Everard stated: “The local context fails to create an architectural vernacular for the centre of Southborough and therefore it is the aim of the Hub to establish a new vernacular. The material palette for the hub has been chosen to create a dynamic and active landmark for the centre of the town.” The planning meeting two years ago was shown the illustration below as an example of how the Hub would look.
Wednesday’s update statement was issued by the Southborough Hub project board which is run by Kent County Council under the supervision of the 3 interested councils (Town Council, Borough Council and County Council) and said:
“The plans previously submitted and agreed by planners have had to be revised following cost increases that have led to the current consented scheme being over budget. The new plans reflect the previous aspirations for the facility and include a hall/theatre, community rooms, GP surgery, library, football pavilion and council facilities. Final sign off on the plans will be done by the Project Board…who will agree to submit the plans for planning approval and this will take place in the next few weeks.”
“The project has saved costs through predominantly cutting back on generous areas of circulation space which delivers little in terms of tangible benefits to the scheme. In addition the café has been removed as the business case for it no longer stacks up given the four cafes now open on the high street and the potential for a further one next door on the Crest Nicholson scheme. The facility will however consider meeting customer needs for a café via a high quality self-service machine and comfortable seating.”
There was criticism two years ago from theatre groups that used the original Royal Victoria Hall Theatre (shown below before and during demolition) that the new theatre would not have the facilities of the old building.
But Wednesday’s statement insisted: “The hall remains as before, a flexible space able to accommodate up to 350 people with tiered retractable seating and the building will allow for multi-location pop up bars for use during events and shows. The community rooms and football pavilion have slightly increased in size to the benefit of the wider public. The GP surgery remains within the scheme as before but has had further input from NHS England. While progress continues to be made on this front, this area remains the last outstanding major risk to the project being fully funded and we are hopeful of securing the final funding elements within the coming months. ”
The original look presented to the Southborough public and planners is shown below.
Wednesday’s statement from the project continued: “The previous design’s look and feel was very distinctive and would have made the building a clear landmark in Southborough. While this to a degree did contribute to some diverging local opinions, the Southborough based architects have made changes to ensure the new designs give a form and shape which is more traditional. They have also managed to create a larger square between the Hub and the housing by pushing the facility further north thus increasing the size of the public realm and accentuating the building and clearly defining it as a civic facility, surrounded by a suitably large civic space. “
“Work on site has now begun to put in the spine road, the parking, gas, water, drainage and electric connections for the Hub. Baxall have been appointed to deliver the main build and the engineering works on the fields are also now complete. The Council is also currently making good progress in negotiating heads of terms with the football club for their lease on the football pavilion and the club continues to improve on their fund raising target.”
Revised plans will be available from the 28 September onwards on the following website: http://www.southboroughcouncil.co.uk/southborough-community-hub/