The first ever Town Meeting in Southborough saw 180 people approve a motion arguing that trust had broken down between the community and Southborough Town Council and calling for the formation of a new advisory group to include theatre and other community groups.
The meeting was called under legislation that allows two Councillors to call such a gathering, but it was not attended by any members of the ruling Conservative group on the Town Council.
Liberal Democrat Councillor, Trevor Poile, and Labour’s Nick Blackwell called the meeting. Cllr Blackwell is shown below counting votes in support of the motion.
The motion approved stated: “This Town Meeting believes that the Hub Project Board could have done more to give residents of the town a greater involvement in the project, not only in the overall design and provision of facilities but also in the sharing of the financial aspects. Failing to do this has caused a breakdown of trust between the community and Southborough Town Council”.
The motion continued: “We want our Hub to be a vibrant and successful facility so that it can play its rightful role at the heart of our town. This can only happen if the views of town residents are heard, respected and acted on. We have asked the Chair of our meeting to send you our questions, comments and suggestions and we would like a detailed response, including how you will take forward our ideas.”
The motion’s third paragraph reads: “In future we are asking for more effort to build our trust and confidence in the project. We would like you to work with the Chair of our meeting to set up an independently led advisory group that includes representatives of churches, schools, theatre, sport and other community organisations to ensure that the Hub will meet our present and future needs.”
The motion concludes: “At these last and crucial stages of the project we expect regular and better communications from you about the Hub, including a serious attempt to contact and involve people who are elderly, housebound or have no internet access. We would also like you to be open with us on the project costings, publish a current business plan and let us see that the Hub has a sustainable future.”
The meeting took place after the Town Council’s own Planning Committee on Monday voted to advise rejection of the Southborough Hub plans at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Planning meeting expected in January. The Southborough Town Council is a “statutory” consultee but can only advise the Tunbridge Wells Planning Committee which has the final say on planning issues
Only one Conservative attended the Monday Town Council Planning Committee and he couldn’t vote in favour because he is the councillor tasked with coming up with the plans (Ian Kinghorn) and so wasn’t deemed to be independent on this issue. Cllrs Poile, Munn and Lewis voted against leading to a 3-0 vote rejecting the current Hub plans.
At Tuesday’s Town Meeting, residents were urged to put in comments on the Planning portal before the deadline of 13th December.
Sue Pemberton from Doone Brae was greeted with widespread applause when she said: “I can see the logic in a multi-use building…but there’s too many different functions in too small a space. You are going to have too many different managers trying to manage the theatre, the library, the dance classes, the surgery. All of the different functions are going to clash. Who is going to take priority? I think we’ll have utter chaos and in the end no one is going to want to use it and they will all go elsewhere.”
The audio from the whole meeting is posted here in four parts. The first two are mainly Nick Blackwell and Jason Reeves explaining the plans (27 mins and 23 mins) with some initial questions:
Lynne from London Road said: “I actually live bang opposite this monstrosity. I thought it was going to be a lovely building. Now you are telling me it is going to be pre-fab. I was hoping it was going to be a beautiful theatre – updated – that everybody could use. But it has fewer seats (than the old theatre).”
Most of the questions are here in two sections here (Pt 3 27 mins and Pt 4 is 29 mins). The vote is at the very end.