The latest plans for the Southborough Hub were approved by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Planning Committee last week with one Conservative councillor abstaining and the remaining 10 councillors voting in favour.
In a social media post, the man overseeing the scheme for Southborough, Ian Kinghorn said: “This has been a long journey to get to where we are today, but at long last the building of the Hub will not only put the heart back into the centre of our town but also lead to the regeneration of London Road, Southborough.”
Mr Kinghorn (pictured below from earlier event) continued: “The residents of Southborough and High Brooms should now get behind and support this project to make sure that this community asset works and benefits all the residents of Southborough and High Brooms.”
According to Mr Kinghorn, the planning decision means the contractors, Baxall Construction will now start the building of the Hub, even though – it is understood – part of the funding from the NHS has yet to be secured.
The previous plans for a plastic polycarbonate facade have been dropped and the outer shell will now use terracotta coloured tiles, similar to those used on the new Skinners’ Kent Primary School at Knight’s Park by the same developer and architect. There will also be zinc shingle on the Hub and the sports pavilion will have fibre cement cladding.
Among those who voted in favour at planning was the Council’s only representative of the new Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, Nick Pope. The meeting heard that (excluding councillors) 45 public representations had been received objecting to the proposed development, with only 3 people writing in support.
Planning officials called the scheme “a modern design”. It was stated that changes had been made to allow an articulated lorry to be parked for unloading without blocking access. Southborough Society was neutral on the plans.
The planners had been sent written evidence from the official statutory consultee group, Theatres Trust, which continued to object to the new scheme arguing its ongoing management had not been appropriately considered. The Trust said it: “only supported the replacement of the Royal Victoria Hall (1950s view shown above) rather than its retention on the basis of the new theatre providing improved facilities and a better outcome for Southborough. This condition has not been met.”
The Theatres Trust stated: “The proposal (latest plan below) contravenes para 92 of the National Planning Policy Framework as the decline in quality and functionality of the site’s theatre provision represents an unnecessary loss of a valued facility. Revisions since the original iteration have resulted in reduced facilities, standards and ancillary space for the theatre. The scheme will not provide a viable and sustainable theatre. ”
The Theatres Trust concluded: “Plans and sections are inadequate to assess the auditorium in terms of capacity, sightlines and disabled provision. There is no space for a café/bar, which will be necessary for the theatre’s viability and insufficient changing room provision. It will not provide the benefits for Southborough that the local community expect.”
A zoomed in plan for the new ground floor layout is shown below suggesting an enlarged kitchen might provide some catering facilities with a hatch to the library and door to the stage area of the Hall. See below:
There were 4 speakers opposing the development including Rebecca Clow of Vale Road, who was concerned that no action had been taken in response to the December Town Meeting in Southborough which called for more consultation with the community.
She was followed by Robert Tillotson of Birchwood Avenue who also objected, arguing: “The plan will result in congestion, access and parking problems, particularly for the elderly and sick visiting the medical centre. It is going to be a safety risk….We do not need more retail units in Southborough. We have empty units already.”
Mr Tillotson said the existing library would be replaced with an shared space that didn’t meet residents’ needs. He said: “There is no quiet reading area with no secure childrens’ area.”
Mr Tillotson continued: “I know nobody who thinks this can be used as a theatre space. The new medical centre provides no extra consulting and treatment rooms than the current site (in Pinewood Gardens).”
Mr Tillotson concluded: “I object to the design and fit of this structure (shown below) in our predominantly Victorian and Edwardian environment. It has no architectural merit. It looks cheap with nasty cladding and facilities that will soon deteriorate. If this was a private application being made to you, you would reject it.”
By contrast James Robson from the architects HMY responded: “The key to the scheme is flexibility…We are very proud of our design. We think it is an outstanding piece of architecture – something that the Town with be proud of in the years to come. We hope that we can build it soon.”
Cllr Peter Oakford (pictured below from earlier event), who is a Southborough Town Councillor, a Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and deputy leader of Kent Council explained that the previous Hub proposals turned out to be unaffordable, stating: “The community have been waiting over 25 years for something to happen and I am pleased to say we are now very close to starting work on this site.”
Cllr David Elliot also told the meeting: “I am convinced that the Southborough Hub will transform the centre of Southborough once built. Don’t stop it now!”
It is also hoped by the developers that the Hall will be suitable for weddings, lectures and film shows, having no fixed stage.
The previous planning meeting on the Hub two years ago could theoretically have stopped the destruction of the Royal Victoria Hall (pictured below in 2016) and was attended by dozens of local residents. But last Wednesday’s meeting saw only a small number of Southborough residents attend, in part thanks to the fact that it was held during work hours at 5pm, unlike the meeting to consider the previous application, which was held in the evening.
The money for the Southborough Hub has come from the sale of part of the local playing fields for the Crest Nicholson housing development. The cash is being spent on three main elements. There’s a separate sports pavillion (which will be rented to the local football club), a medical centre (to be leased to the local doctors) with the remaining funds spent on the combined hall/library with a small retail facility (potentially yielding some rent).
Cllr Ian Kinghorn stated that the FA were contributing £ 500,000 to the building costs of the sports pavillion but the bulk of the construction costs – still not made public – will be met by the Hub project. Football club members are raising funds for the internal fittings of the pavillion.
Kent County Council have incurred costs in designing the Hub scheme, but are likely to receive a return when the site of the old Southborough library, which they own, is freed up for new uses or possible sale for development.
The Hub scheme proposers argued that getting a new medical centre for Southborough (shown below) was vital, arguing: “The current St Andrew’s Medical Centre is too small to meet the needs of the local growing population, with many residents currently travelling to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells. The new medical centre will be a separate building attached to the Hub and will help to finance the overall scheme as well as meet the needs of the Southborough population, providing a modern, up to date facility.”
The proposal also stated: “The landscaped public space to the south of the Hub building provides a focus for the new development with a ‘market square’ capable of hosting small events in a new public realm.”
The full minutes and a clear audio recording of the meeting can be found on the Borough Council’s website by clicking here: http://bit.ly/2RSWW7V
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On Monday 11 Feb, to explain more clearly the full facilities of the Hub, I have now added the First Floor plans for the main Hub building below. The three Community Rooms are planned to double up as changing rooms for performances in the Hall:
Meanwhile this is how the football pavilion overlooking the playing fields will look:
Plus this is how the full site will look – apart from the extra parking in the extended Yew Tree Road car park which is off the bottom of this map.
The Yew Tree Road car park will have 16 extra spaces, 2 of which will have electric charging points. Plus there will be 42 parking spaces off the map to the right along Salomons Grove facing onto the playing fields, accessed via the Ridgewaye.