Southborough Hub: “Design is Great” says leading Conservative

The most prominent Conservative on Southborough Town Council has described the latest hub plans issued on Friday as “great” and perfectly meeting the design brief.

Councillor Peter Oakford (pictured below) who sits on Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Southborough Town Council also confirmed that space has been left for a retail unit to generate income for Southborough.

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In a statement to Southborough News, Cllr Oakford said: “Personally I think the design is great. With so many local authorities, NHS organisations and CCGs selling off under utilised buildings that they can not longer afford to keep, the new hub meets the flexible design brief perfectly.”

He continued: “Every element of the facility – other than the actual STC office – is a multi use flexible space that will ensure maximum utilisation of the building and therefore financial security and, as I have said before at no extra cost to the tax payers of Southborough and High Brooms.”

Cllr Oakford added: “The pharmacy is an idea at this stage, not anything that has been confirmed but would be a natural fit with the medical centre. The space is a retail unit which will be leased out by STC but the architect added the word pharmacy for demonstration purposes”.

Meanwhile there have been dozens of comments on social media about the new plans. Concerns include lack of news about the building’s outer cladding and appearance, lack of facilities for the type of theatre productions formerly held at the Royal Victoria Hall, a lack of a separated children’s library and a lack of a new formal public consultation before the designs go for planning approval. Others expressed their hopes for new modern facilities.

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Southborough’s Hub Has New Shape

The Southborough Hub is to built with a rectangular footprint according to new plans issued to the public on Friday, with the previous “circle and two blocks” layout having been abandoned.

The new plans were outlined at a Southborough Town Council meeting on Thursday, although no artist impressions as to how the building will actually look are available. It is still not clear if brick, concrete or any form of plastic cladding will be used for the outer shell.

Although the plans for a cafe have been abandoned, a retail unit/pharmacy is still incorporated, which presumably it is hoped will yield some rental income for the council for its 94 square metres.

Southborough News has used photoshop to try to clarify the plans published on the Southborough Town Council website, colouring the new Hall in pink, the doctors’ surgery in yellow and the library section in green.  (see below).

Large Area blog

The new footprint appears to cover almost the same area as the Royal Victoria Hall before its demolition two years ago.

The dimensions of the stage in the new hall are given as 9.25 metres by 9 metres.  The total size of the hall is 342 square metres. Here is the ground floor in more detail:

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The Hall’s changing rooms are located between the hall and the A26 which runs to the left on the diagram. There is a kitchenette shown which is 14.5 square metres, plus a workshop that is 26 square metres.

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The library is shown with views of an open space to the south with shrubs or trees and the A26 to the west. (see below)

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This is the first floor plan published showing the location of two community rooms of 68 and 73 square metres, plus Town Council offices and a balcony to the Hall:

First Floor blog.jpgThe new scheme will require fresh planning permission.  The previous layout that went through the planning process two years ago is shown here at:

Overall plan

6 pdfs are available on the council website, with 3 of the Hub (all shown here) and 3 more detail the football pavillion.

New Look for Southborough Hub to be Unveiled Tonight

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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stage

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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.

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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/

History of Salomons Estate Explained in Heritage Open Day Tour

Around 60 people attended two days of group tours explaining the history of Victorian Southborough’s most famous family, the Salomons, as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days.

The Salomon Estate is now privately owned by the Markerstudy Group but under the terms of the donation of the house (originally to Kent County Council) by the last surviving member of the Salomon family, two rooms must be left open for the public to view memorabilia about three remarkable generations of Salomons.

Sir David Salomons, was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London and one of the founders of what became NatWest Bank. He also made the first speech by a Jewish member of the House of Commons in 1851, despite not completing the oath of allegiance for an MP which at the time required adherence to the Christian faith.  The original bench he made that speech from is on display at the museum (pictured below).

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Hour long detailed and engaging talks were given by the museum curator, Chris Jones (pictured below), to the groups last Thursday and on Sunday.

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Sir David Salomons, who also campaigned for the political rights of other religious minorities, was succeeded to his title by his nephew, Sir David Lionel Salomons, who was a scientist, engineer, photographer and inventor.  Sir David Lionel owned the second car  in England in 1895. He succeeded in raising the vehicle speed limit above 4 mph.

Sir David Lionel built a “scientific theatre”, which is also usually available to visit if there are no private events there. The theatre (shown below) was equipped with one of the finest electrically driven philharmonic organs, which was restored by a Lottery Grant and is now the only one left in the world.

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Remarkably many of the original electrical fittings remain evident in the theatre.

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Sir David Lionel invented switches that used radio signals to control features in the theatre. It is preserved so well as it was essentially abandoned from the 1930s.

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Sir David Lionel’s only son, Captain David Reginald Salomons, tragically died during the First World War in the HMS Hythe disaster in 1915 that also saw around 100 other men from the area killed when the Hythe troop ship collided with another British vessel on a dark night off the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey. Between the wars, the people of Southborough held a ‘Hythe Sunday’ on or around 28th October.

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Other notable features of the two room museum are shown below.  It is free to view. Among the exhibits are a piano, a 19th century fire bucket, a ceremonial wheelbarrow commemorating the Reading-Reigate Railway and a statue of Dick Whittington.

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NB This article was updated on 10.9.18 to correct the date of the second car  in England to 1895. The date of 1874 originally mentioned in my blog actually related to the development of a home-made electric tricycle, which David Lionel Salomons apparently abandoned as it was too much work to recharge the battery.

Campaigner Brian Dury Takes on Role as Southborough Society Chairman

Brian Dury, who led a successful campaign against a major supermarket development on playing fields in Southborough ten years ago, has issued his first message as the new Chairman of the Southborough Society.

Mr Dury (pictured below) said he wanted the Society to influence change in Southborough and attract new members.  He set out his vision for the Society in the Society’s printed summer newsletter which was delivered by hand on Monday to members.

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Membership of the society has grown by 5% over the past year to 319 members in 217 households.

Mr Dury told members: “As a lifelong resident of Southborough, I am very honoured to hold this office…In June, the executive committee met for the first time under my leadership and we discussed what action we needed to take to continue to attract new members, particularly those with young families, many of whom are new to the area and are unaware of our existence.”

His message continued: “I am pleased to announce that Julie Levack has agreed to take on the task of School Liaison and will be looking to build connections with our two primary schools; if members have contacts that will support Julie in this role I will be pleased to hear from you.”

Mr Dury said he believed the purpose of the Society should be defined as a: “Society that is concerned with the very fabric of our community, maintaining a record of its history and how it changes over the years.  We seek to influence that change, through involvement in the planning process and in providing a focus for people to come together, to learn and share knowledge about our town’s past, present and future.”

Mr Dury was elected Chairman in May at the Annual General Meeting after the departure of the previous Chairman, Michael Howes (pictured below).

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Brian Dury offered thanks in his message to Michael Howes, who he said had “worked so very hard on behalf of the Society, initiated many new ideas and leaves office with a thriving organisation as his legacy.”

Mr Dury was a key figure in a campaign called Save Our Southborough which successfully blocked a plan to transform all the playing fields of the former Ridgewaye School into a giant Co-op supermarket.  Subsequently, around a third of that space was  lost to housing as a way of funding the Southborough Hub scheme.

Revised details of what the Hub will look like were due to be presented to Southborough Town Council this week. It will be built on the site of the demolished Royal Victoria Hall.

The Southborough Society’s next two events are:
8th September 10am-4pm: High Brooms History Exhibition at St Matthews’s High Brooms
8th November 8pm: Talk on women who fought for the vote by Anne Carwardine in Christ Church Hall, Southborough

The Society is also participating in Heritage Open Days from Sept 6 to 16th, where historic places normally closed to the public are thrown open to visitors. See:
http://www.tunbridgewellsheritageopendays.org

The Society’s new website is promised in the coming days and will be at:
https://www.southboroughsociety.org/