Public Meeting on Tuesday as Critics say Southborough Hub will be a “Dysfunctional Building”

Southborough’s first ever “Town Meeting” will be held next week to find out what residents think of the newly revised Southborough Hub scheme to spend £10 million on a new hall, library, medical centre and football pavilion.

The Hub replaces the demolished Royal Victoria Hall Theatre (pictured below in May 2017). But critics say the new Hub fails to meet the Town Council’s promise to deliver a new “state of the art theatre” and will have little shared community space.

RVH demolish.jpg

The Town Meeting has been called by one Labour and one Liberal Democrat councillor and will be held at the Southborough Primary School TN4 0SJ at 7pm on Tuesday 4th December 2018.

A member of the public will chair the Town Meeting as the Conservative mayor, Conservative deputy mayor and the Council’s Hub project leader, Ian Kinghorn, have all declined to attend due to “prior engagements”.

Town Meetings are governed by an Act of Parliament.  It is the last chance for residents to hear all about the plans and discuss the proposals before the Tunbridge Wells Planning Committee meets to decide whether to approve the scheme.

RVH bits.jpg

The old Royal Victoria Hall had dedicated dressing rooms, a bar and 350 seats.  The new hall planned in the Hub can only seat 250 people for theatre productions while dressing rooms will have to double up as council meeting rooms.

Councillor Trevor Poile of the Liberal Democrats and Labour Councillor, Nick Blackwell, are both concerned by the verdict of the national experts on theatre provision, the Theatres Trust, which said recently “it did not have confidence in the long term viability of the Hub” based on the latest plans.

A joint statement from Cllr Blackwell and Cllr Poile said: “The Southborough Community Hub is part of the biggest public investment that this town has ever seen and will affect the lives of generations of people living in the town for years to come. As Town Councillors, we believe that efforts to inform and engage residents, taxpayers, and potential users in its design and purpose have been unambitious and inadequate which will have a negative impact on the success of the project.”

Nov18 Hub Air

The new building (above) will be wood framed with a terracotta coloured cladding facade and some zinc shingle. The only public consultation with the project team available to discuss the revised plans was held from 5-6pm on a Tuesday evening at the end of October.  The previous plans approved by planners in 2016 were abandoned as they turned out to be too expensive.

In a statement on Friday to Southborough News, Cllr Blackwell said:  “Many people in the town believed that whatever replaced the Royal Victoria Hall would be a real community hub. A central space within the town where people could come together; a social space that could be used by people of all ages. Our new theatre would be “State of the Art” and “the envy of other towns” according to local Conservative councillors. And the project would be signed sealed and delivered by Christmas 2016.”

Cllr Blackwell continues: “Sadly these promises have failed to materialise. An inability by the project Board to reign in the budget has now meant that the scheme that achieved planning consent in March 2017 has been scrapped and replaced with a cheaper “value engineered” alternative with more shared spaces and no box office, bar or café. Cllr Oakford told our Southborough Town Meetings a couple of years ago that he didn’t care what the building looked like. The latest plans bear this out. It looks like a 60s secondary modern with aspirations. Zinc and terracotta cladding do nothing to disguise the uninspiring utilitarian design.”

Hub Nov18 First

Cllr Blackwell then argues: “The library doubles up as pop up bar area. The committee rooms double up as changing rooms. The Project board admit that none of the hiring scenarios have been modelled or considered. Theatre and user groups have not been asked whether their productions can financially support a reduced seating capacity of 250 from 350. It is a dysfunctional building that can’t do what it supposed to do.”

Cllr Blackwell continues: “The build will be a series of out-of-keeping prefabricated boxes that have been condemned by the Theatres Trust as not fit for purpose and not financially viable in the long term. We have no business plan and we have now been told that Southborough Town Council is not to expect any income from the hall as the management will be outsourced to the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall.”

Cllr Blackwell argues: “The whole process has been beset by poor management and a project that has overreached the skillset of those involved. For KCC this has only ever been a cost cutting exercise to sell off our playing fields and library site for housing. What we have been presented is the worst case scenario. Few of us on Southborough Town Council envisaged it would be quite this poor. Despite boasts of record amounts for the sale of the playing fields it is obvious the money has run out. The project Board spent years employing Pick Everard architects and working up a design that is never going to be built. We still don’t know how much money has been wasted on the aborted design.”

Hub Nov18 In Theat

Cllr Blackwell concludes: “We do know that Southborough Town Council has been required to contribute an additional £500,000 (from the sale of the former Speldhurst Rd Allotments) and that the funding from the NHS for the medical centre is unconfirmed and still at risk. It is still not too late to change the decision and produce something that will be an asset to the town rather than an underused financial drag.  We need the maximum number of people to attend the Town Meeting and to see the plans for the first time and express their views. I would urge everyone who cares about where they live to turn up and get involved.”

In the last few days, there have been new alterations to the internal plans with the small kitchen reportedly being moved next to library, with a servery from the kitchen so that drinks can be served in the library (coloured brown below) which will be turned into a bar for theatre events. This latest scheme is not in the current drawings (below) and will apparently mean less storage for the theatre.

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Meanwhile former mayor David Elliott is the only person to have commented on the new planning application on the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council portal.

Councillor Elliot said: “We’ve been working towards revitalising the centre of Southborough for nearly twelve years now and we are almost there…..The Southborough Hub will transform the centre of Southborough once built. Don’t stop it now. I fully support this application. It would be a tragedy for Southborough if the funding already allocated for this project in these difficult times were to be lost forever if this planning application is not approved.”

You can comment on the TWBC website until 13th December at:

Pictures of the old Royal Victoria Hall demolition in 2017 are taken with permission from the blog “castles on the ground”:

Unseen demise of the Royal Victoria Hall

RVH balcony

This was the same site pictured in the snow in April 2018.

RVH rubble in snow jpg

Council Responds to Public Concerns About Southborough Hub Design

The Councils designing the Southborough Hub have responded to public comments and it appears the plans may be changed to incorporate a larger kitchen or bar.

A new planning application is scheduled to be submitted in November 2018 with an outcome early in 2019 prior to start on site in 2019.  Compared with the original plans, the new plan sees “a major reduction in circulation space within the building but keeps all other elements as closely aligned to the previous submission”.

Nov18 Hub Air A new document on the Southborough Town Council website written by the project manager, Jonathan White, explains that: “the new designs have shifted the main hub building to the north ensuring that the town square can be made larger and accommodate more activity.”

The following additional questions and answers from the council have been published:

Q: There is no café/bar in the new proposals
A: Internal designs are being considered which if approved, would move the kitchen area adjacent to the library space and include a hatch in to the library. This would allow for a café and a bar subject to operational requirements.

Q: The kitchen being proposed is too small!
A: Internal designs are being considered which if approved would enlarge the kitchen area

Q: Will there be a disabled toilet and a baby change area?
A: Yes, there will be disabled toilets on both levels of the Hub, there will also be a baby change facility

Q: Toilets are all unisex!
A: Toilets remain as individual cubicles that will be allocated as Male, Female, Disabled, and Unisex in a flexible arrangement to meet equality requirements and optimal operational efficiency.

Q: There are insufficient toilets to meet the current standards
A: The building meets the current toilet standard requirements

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Q: Will the hub building be fully accessible for disabled people?
A: Yes, the building will be fully accessible and will meet part L and M of the building regulations

Q: There is no lift to the second floor of the main hub building
A: There is a lift to the second floor of the hub building and it can be found in the west wing of the main hub building adjacent to the stairs

Q: There is insufficient space in the facility for when there are large theatre performances
A: The space in the library will be used flexibly with bookshelves being able to be moved out of the way to accommodate for larger gatherings – the library and the theatre will work together to minimise any disruption to their clients

Q: There is no segregated room for children in the new library. Does this not raise child safety issues?
A: There will be a children’s area in the new library space but the service does not require them to be segregated. Library furniture can be used to give the area a more defined space for children. There are no child safety issues with this proposal

Q: How will the theatre work if the community rooms which double as changing rooms are already booked out?
A: The operator of the hub will ensure that the hall/theatre requirements and the rental of the community rooms can work in harmony to maximise the use of the facility (Second floor plan shown below – part of medical centre is to right of plan)

Hub Nov18 First Floor

Q: The noise from the theatre will impact the library area
A: Libraries are aware of the impact the theatre may have on their service and will work with customers to ensure any disruption is minimised

Q: If the building is open at night people will steal from the library
A: The library service are happy for people to use the self service machines out of hours to borrow books from the library even when staff are not present. Theft of library stock is very rare

Q: The community rooms have been shrunk from the previous designs
A: The new community rooms are larger than the previous designs at 141 square meters excluding storage compared to 81 square meters in the old designs

Q: Are the Theatre Trust comments being addressed?
A: The Theatre Trust has raised the same comments as they previous did for the prior submission and once again these are being picked up and a response has been sent to them. They are a statutory consultee as part of the planning process and we will continue to work with them to ensure the best outcome for the facility. They have also raised the issue of the café and that has been picked up separately within these FAQs.

Q: The community rooms have large glazed areas that will mean they are not suitable to act as changing rooms for the hall/theatre
A: The project will ensure that the necessary blinds are in place to give the privacy required.

Hub Nov18 Upper RmQ: There are insufficient changing rooms
A: The community rooms are very large and can be split up to provide further changing rooms if required

Q: The building will be built using timber and pre-fabricated panels. This sounds like a cost saving exercise and how long will the building last?
A: The design life of the product is over 60 years however if maintenance is done properly the building will last forever as with any other building which is well maintained

Q: Where is the storage?
A: There are numerous storage areas throughout the facility including a large store adjacent to the hall able to take the stage and seating

Hub Nov18 In TheatQ:  The hall can only accommodate 250 people. This is too small.
A: The hall can accommodate different setups up to 350 people

Q: What cladding is being proposed for the facility?
A: The cladding being proposed is a mixture of red terracotta cladding and a zinc based tile. There will also be some brick work at lower levels

Hub Nov18 First

Q: STC office is out of the way, not prominent enough and not accessible.
A: STC office location has been agreed by the Council and it is fully accessible

Q:  You have not consulted with anyone on the designs?
A: A list of consultation discussions over the whole period of the project is available on the STC website

Q: Will there be any disabled parking for the GP surgery?
A: Yes there will be two disabled spaces provided adjacent to the GP surgery, these are in addition to a further two spaces being provided on the Ridgewaye Car Park as well

Q: Parking is inadequate when football clubs are present
A: An additional 40 parking spaces are being provided adjacent to the recreational ground to reduce the parking issues. In addition to these, a further 19 car parking spaces will also be provided via an extension at the Yew Tree Road Car Park.

Q: Will the library have fewer books than before?
A: The library will have just as many books as before

Hub Nov18 In LibrQ: Can we please have another name than the Southborough Hub?
A: It is anticipated that prior to opening a name will be given to the facility

Q: Will the pharmacy be going in to the retail unit?
A: The partners are in negotiation with a number of potential tenants about who goes in to the space. The existing pharmacy in Southborough is not at risk from this development.

Q: Medical centre waiting area is too small.
A: The space being provided meets the NHS requirements

Q: There is no kitchen in the medical centre?
A: The space being provided meets the NHS requirements

Q: The building will cost Southborough lots of money to run and locals will end up subsidising it. When can we see the numbers?
A: The hub has a number of income streams notably from the GP surgery, retail unit, library and others which seeks to offset the running costs of the facility. The aim will be to ensure that STC are no worse off than they were before. The detailed numbers will be released once all agreements have been signed securing the income as doing so before hand would undermine the councils negotiating position.

Q: Why is there no air conditioning in the building?
A: Tinted glass, air handling units and large ceilings will ensure that air conditioning which is expensive to run and maintain will not be required.

Q: Who will run the centre?
A: The operations of the facility have yet to be agreed but will ultimately lie with Southborough Town Council with input from Kent County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Q: How much will the Southborough Hub development cost?
A: The total cost of the entire scheme including residential investment is c£30M. The Hub capital build costs are anticipated to be around £10M.

Q: How much did you get from selling the land to Crest Nicholson?
A: The sale value of the land has yet to be finalised as Crest are delivering part of the infrastructure works which will be offset against the land value once completed. Roughly speaking the land sale will pay for two thirds of the Hub buildings with the remainder coming from partners, grants and investment from the NHS.

New Hub Images Released as Theatre Experts Warn of “Grave Mistake”

The latest images for how Southborough’s new Hub have been released, just as the national experts on theatre provision called the decision not to include a cafe in the complex “a grave mistake.”

The statutory advisory group Theatres Trust said it did not have confidence in the long term viability of the Hub based on the latest plans.

The new images have been on display at Southborough Library over the past week. The old library will be demolished when a new library is built together with a Hall/theatre, meeting rooms and medical centre in the new Hub (shown below).

Hub Nov18 First

Hub Nov18 Library

The view below is from the London Road looking south towards Tunbridge Wells with the new council meeting room overlooking the A26.

Hub Nov18 London Rd

The Theatres Trust have written to Kent County Council, who are overseeing the work on the Hub.  The Trust said: “We are increasingly concerned that the project is proceeding without a decision on who and how either the Hub as a whole or the theatre component will be operated.”

The Theatres Trust letter continued: “This is all the more important as the current proposals indicate that all front of house and back of house support facilities are to be dual use. There needs to be a clear vision about the purpose of this cultural facility and how it will be used to inform the design, layout, access and technical needs and also to ensure that this can operate effectively and serve as a viable and sustainable replacement to the Royal Victoria Hall”.

The Trust then says: “We strongly recommend the various parties involved in this project make that decision now and involve an operator in this design phase.” The latest ground floor plans are shown below:

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor.jpg

The Theatres Trust notes that the planned capacity of the new theatre (shown below) has been reduced from 350 to 250 and it asks that “community groups are involved in this discussion to ensure that the auditorium size…is sufficient to allow them to cover the cost of the productions.”

Hub Nov18 In Theat

The Trust’s bluntest words are over the decision to reduce the costs of building the Hub by axing the original plans for a daytime cafe that could double up as a bar in the evening during theatre intervals.  It lists a number of places including Chester which have seen library usage rise strongly thanks to a neighbouring cafe.

The Trust says: “There is no provision except for a coffee machine within the library.  We feel that is a grave mistake….A cafe will help provide daytime animation to the building and entice people to spend more time in it….theatres reply on bar income as an important income stream and potentially undermining the viability of the venue.”

The Trust expresses concerns that the dual use of dressing rooms as committee rooms will create clashes, but it does welcome the addition of windows into the Hall to make it more attractive for daytime events.

The project team at Kent County Council have indicated they feel the involvement of officials from the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall in the plans means that advice from local experts has already been taken into account.

Further images are shown below showing the library and medical centre looking north from ground level:

Hub Nov18 T & Medic.jpg

From the same point but looking right over the Ridgewaye fields:

Hub Nov18 Medic.jpg

This is the inside view of the library:

Hub Nov18 In Libr.jpg

The First floor plan includes two potential meeting rooms for Southborough Town Council:

Hub Nov18 Upper Rm

Hub Nov18 First Floor.jpg

This is the pavilion for the soccer club:

Hub Nov18 Soccer

Finally, a view from above:

Nov18 Hub Air