Trevor Poile is Back on Borough Council for Southborough After 12 Years Away

Liberal Democrat Trevor Poile has returned to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by defeating his Conservative opponent, Cllr David Elliott, in Southborough North.

Cllr Poile (pictured below) previously represented the same ward for 12 years between 1994 and 2007.  He told Southborough News: “This win is particularly special as I have come back as a Borough councillor for my home ward after 12 years.”


In the past decade, Cllr Poile has remained an active member of the Southborough Town Council.

He said: “I was not expecting to get over 50% of the votes, I’ll be honest. Clearly it was part of a trend across the Borough, but my win was much bigger than expected.”

Trevor Poile Lib Dem 691 53% Elected
David Elliott Cons 414 31% Not elected
Nicholas Blackwell Labour 135 10% Not elected
Stephen Lukacs UKIP 76 6% Not elected

Cllr Poile continued: “It is a fantastic result for me but it is also quite humbling that I have had that support. It is always hard work to win an election but the hard work really starts when you become elected.”

Meanwhile, his defeated opponent Conservative David Elliott, who had represented the Southborough North seat on TWBC for the past 12 years, told Southborough News he was disappointed with the result.

Cllr Elliott, who remains on the Southborough Town Council, said: “We felt that Southborough North was a fairly safe seat. In the 2015 election, I took 58% of the vote and as Conservatives we have tended to concentrate our efforts elsewhere and perhaps neglected the North Ward.”

David Elliott told Southborough News that he “would be back” and was proud of his achievements as a Borough Councillor. Cllr Elliott (pictured below) took early retirement aged 56 in the year before his election. He said: “Since my election in May 2007, I have been working full time supporting local residents in the North Ward.”

Elliott new2

Cllr Elliott was briefly mayor of both Tunbridge Wells Borough and Southborough Town, when his one year as mayor in Tunbridge Wells and two years as mayor of Southborough overlapped for 15 hours. He pointed to his success on the Town Council improving Southborough Common – working with the Kent High Weald Partnership – and said: “My main achievement is that I have contributed towards delivering the Southborough Hub.”

Cllr Elliott says he will continue to work for Southborough as membership secretary of the Southborough and High Brooms District Overseas Friendship Association and he is also looking forward to organising the Classic Car show for the Lions Gala Day at Meadow’s School on 23rd June.

Cllr Poile reflected on the dramatic day of council defeats for the Conservatives: “The feel at the count at the Town Hall reminded me of the time in 1990s, when the Lib Dems took control of the Borough Council.”

He continued: “It was a perfect storm for the Conservatives. They have clearly been punished for what they’ve been proposing in the centre of Tunbridge Wells.”  Full details of Thursday’s Borough and Town Council results are written up in two more blogs I have already published.

Meanwhile, Labour won the Southborough and High Brooms ward on the Borough Council.  The victor was Luke Everitt (below) who said he was “over the moon.”

Luke Everitt

Cllr Everitt told Southbrough News that he thought the planned theatre and council office complex in Calverley Grounds was not viable, as it would never have generated the ticketing revenue it needed.  Having spent recent weeks on the streets canvassing for votes, he said “I have yet to meet anyone in support of the Civic Centre scheme.”

Cllr Everitt, who is 32 and who formerly worked in the Council election team, said he thought the Tunbridge Wells council chamber had become an “echo chamber” without serious scrutiny of policies, but that there was now a clear mandate from voters for change.

Luke Everitt Labour 845 50% Elected
Alexis Bird Lib Dem 352 21% Not elected
Mark Puller Cons 309 18% Not elected
Christine Marshall UKIP 195 11% Not elected

Supporters of the Civic Centre project had pointed to the success of the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury (below) .  But Cllr Everitt pointed out the Marlowe had benefited from significant public investment in the past but had now left council control and become a trust, so – he said – “being lost to the public realm.”

Marlowe theatre

In the local votes a year ago, Conservative Joe Simmons (who voted against his own party’s Civic Centre plans) held onto his Borough Council seat for the Conservatives  with 51% of the vote in Southborough North. Meanwhile in the Southborough and High Brooms ward, Labour’s Alain Lewis was victorious with 62% of the vote.

Southborough has 2 Borough Councillors in North Ward and 3 in Southborough and High Brooms Ward, with Dianne Hill from Labour being the 3rd representing High Brooms.

Some of Labour’s Borough councillors are shown below celebrating Thursday’s results: Luke Everitt, Hugo Pound (in Sherwood), Dianne Hill and Alain Lewis.

Lab crop


Calverley Grounds £90 million Civic Project “Unlikely to Happen” After Slump in Conservative Vote

The plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to borrow £90million to build new council offices and theatre in the town is on the brink of collapse after a devastating set of local election results for the ruling Conservative Group.

The leader of the Borough Council, David Jukes, lost his seat of Speldhurst and Bidborough.  And the councillor who had been the driving force behind the project, Cllr Tracy Moore (pictured below) also lost her seat in Park Ward, with Conservative candidates there receiving only 20% of the vote.

Cllr-Tracy-Moore Crop

Both Cllr Jukes and Cllr Moore lost decisively to the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, which was formed predominantly to fight the scheme that would construct a 1,200 seat theatre to replace the Assembly Hall.

The TW Alliance says the cost of the interest payments on the borrowing needed to fund the project will mean continuing cuts to council services for everyone in the Borough, which stretches from Southborough and Paddock Wood in the north to Hawkhurst and Cranbrook in the south.

The TW Alliance won 5 new seats on Thursday in addition to the one seat secured last year by Cllr Nick Pope (pictured below) who told Southborough News he thought the Civic Centre scheme to be built on part of Calverley Grounds near the BBC studios now only had a “30 per cent” chance of going ahead.

Nick Pope crop

The new Borough Council will have 28 Conservatives and 20 opposition councillors. However, several of the Conservatives are opposed to their party’s scheme or have abstained on past votes, so it is no longer clear there is a majority in the council to go ahead with the new buildings.

Nick Pope said: “We would have been relatively happy with 3 seats, but to win 5 out of our 6 seats that we put candidates up for is extremely good. The losses for the Conservatives in Tunbridge Wells are much worse than across the country and that’s because of local issues.”

Asked if the TW Alliance support had benefited from the disarray in national politics, Nick Pope told me: “A few people brought up Brexit, but that’s something that we kept away from because it is not a local issue. Our candidates are a mix of for and against Brexit, but that’s not a local issue”.

image e crop

Nick Pope told Southborough News that feeling in the town against the Calverley Grounds project is very strong. He says there has been a “massive change” in the electoral map after two rounds of annual voting for the Borough Council. Just over a year ago the Conservatives had 90% of the seats – now they have just 58% (28 out of 48 seats).

It would take just 5 Conservatives to support any vote to ditch the scheme for it to be sunk. The Conservative group on the Borough Council will have to choose another leader in the coming days and decide on a new policy.

After his defeat, former TWBC leader David Jukes told the Daily Telegraph: “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. We have lost some good councillors, and with so many long-term projects in front of us, I’m worried this will have a devastating effect on economic growth.”

TW Alliance’s Cllr Pope said he would like to think the Conservatives will change direction. He said: “If they don’t, it would be very foolish and they will probably find they have strong opposition from within the council and from residents for the next year and until the next election.” The next vote for another third of councillors at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will be in May 2020.

Civic Centre 1

Cllr Pope continued: “It is highly likely that Hoopers and others will appeal against the Compulsory Purchase Order decision which has just been approved by the Planning Inspectorate.  It is highly unlikely that they will start to build this year because the appeals will probably delay that.”

Cllr Pope concluded the probability of the £90 million development happening  has dropped well below 50%. He said: “Politically they would be very foolish to push ahead with it. It is probably dropping to about 30%. There’s a good chance it will be stopped”.

Cllr Pope concluded that voters had become increasingly angry at the Conservative’s plans, concluding: “There’s a feeling that the town is looking shabby and people will be paying more for garden waste. They’ve been suffering from reduced services over the past decade and they can only see that getting worse if there’s a large loan to pay off.”

David Elliott (pictured below), who was among those Conservatives who lost his Borough seat in Thursday’s vote, told Southborough News it was up to the remaining Conservatives to decide what path to follow next. But he felt the Civic scheme was well advanced and could still start building work in the next year.

Elliot crop v2

Cllr Elliott expressed his continued support for the scheme as a long term investment.   He said: “I can understand people being concerned about borrowing a lot of money for the future but it has been done before when the existing Town Hall and Assembly Hall were built. The loan for that has only just been paid off.”

Cllr Nick Pope argued it wasn’t too late to abandon the scheme.  He said: “The money they have spent is the equivalent of just over two years of loan repayments so it is a lot of money but it is a lot less than the project would cost and we can be pretty certain the project is not going to be £94 million but well over £ 100 million.”

Back in November 2017, Southborough News interviewed the Conservative Tracy Moore about why she believed the new theatre and Council offices were vital for the future of Tunbridge Wells. You can listen to a recording of what she said by clicking here:

TWBC opposition now has 9 Liberal Democrats plus 6 for Tunbridge Wells Alliance, 4 for Labour and 1 Independent (who formerly was part of TW Alliance). Cllr Nick Blackwell (below) who leads the Labour group on Southborough Town Council called it a “seismic shock” for the Conservatives.


Cllr Blackwell said: “I can’t in my lifetime remember anything like this. For David Jukes to lose his seat in Speldhurst and Bidborough and for Tracey Moore to lose her seat in Park Ward, I don’t think anybody believed that would happen.”

Cllr Blackwell described the Conservative attitude locally as  “hubristic arrogance”. He said: “They will not listen to people and they plough on regardless and they don’t think they are accountable to the electorate”.

Cllr Blackwell concluded: “I would hope now people down at the Town Hall will realise that this (Civic development) is not viable. This is not going to happen. There isn’t the support in the Town. If they have got any sense this is the point where they take stock of where they are and rethink their position.”

In Tunbridge Wells Borough Council voting on Thursday:

Seats Won % of votes
Conservative 5 29%
Liberal Democrat 5 27%
TW Alliance 5 18%
Labour 2 12%
Independent 1 4%
UKIP 0 4%
Green Party 0 3%
Women’s Equality Party 0 2%

In nearby boroughs in Kent, the losses for the Conservatives were much less dramatic than in Tunbridge Wells. In Tonbridge and Malling, the Lib Dems won five seats, but the Tory council majority remains large. On TMBC, there are now 39 Conservatives against 15 from all opposition parties.

There was little change in Maidstone, where the Conservatives remain the largest party, but with no overall control, after losing one seat to Labour.

Here were some of the more dramatic results from wards around Tunbridge Wells on Thursday:

Lucinda Willis TW Alliance 1007 51% Elected
David Jukes Cons 613 31% Not elected
Iola Palmer-Stirling Lib Dem 351 18% Not elected
PARK WARD for 2 seats Votes Share of Vote
Christian Atwood TW Alliance 1125 24% Elected
Rebecca Bruneau TW Alliance 1088 23% Elected
Tracy Moore Cons 539 11% Not elected
Rachel Sadler Lib Dem 486 10% Not elected
Gillian Douglass Lib Dem 482 10% Not elected
Victoria White Cons 437 9% Not elected
Linda Jagger Labour 211 4% Not elected
Victor Webb Independent 211 4% Not elected
Michael Jerrom UKIP 128 3% Not elected

In St John’s Ward there was a heavy defeat for the Conservative Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and Deputy Leader of Kent County Council, Peter Oakford.  Mr Oakford (pictured below) lives in Pennington Road in Southborough.

Peter-Oakford crop

ST JOHN’S WARD Votes Share of Vote
Marguerita Morton Lib Dem 1165 59% Elected
Peter Oakford Cons 347 18% Not elected
Benjamin Phillips Green 174 9% Not elected
Louise Reid Labour 154 8% Not elected
Robert Horan UKIP 125 6% Not elected

More results at:




Conservatives Defeated Heavily on Town Council but “too late” to stop Hub

There has been a heavy defeat for the Conservatives on Southborough Town Council, putting Labour in charge of the new council with support from Liberal Democrats. But it seems to be too late to make any major changes to the Southborough Hub plans.

Labour’s Nick Blackwell (below) told Southborough News that he was overwhelmed by the turnout and wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who came out to vote.

Cllr Blackwell said: “We knew there was a lot of resentment about the way the Hub project had been conducted and the secrecy and arrogance of the previous Tory Council.  But it was really heartening to see that transfer into votes and seats on the Council.”


There is formally “no overall control” on the Town Council, with Labour becoming the largest party with 9 seats, the Conservatives will have 6 and the Liberal Democrats 3 seats.

Cllr Blackwell continued: “Going forward, what we are really keen to do is to open up and have a dialogue with people in the town and be transparent about the finances and I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Liberal Democrats to make sure that happens.”

Cllr Blackwell said people he spoke to on the doorstep were overwhelmingly voting on local issues, with many lifelong Conservatives unhappy with the planned Southborough Hub (shown below) and the Civic Project in Tunbridge Wells.

Nov18 Hub Air

Cllr Blackwell continued: “We did have a few people who were appalled at the way that Greg Clark has – in their words – betrayed them over Brexit and I think for a few Tory voters that was their reason to stay at home, although the vote as a whole was what we’d expect for a local election at this stage.”

The mayor of Southborough is now certain to be a Labour councillor, who will be elected at the first meeting of the new council on Tuesday 21st May.

The council will then choose a new “Hub lead” to replace the Conservative’s Ian Kinghorn.  However, the Conservatives will retain control of the 3 person Hub project as they still hold the other 2 places on the Southborough Hub project board, due to the Conservative majorities on the Tunbridge Wells Borough and Kent County Councils.

There seems no chance of any significant changes to the Hub scheme. Cllr David Elliott of the Conservatives, who stays on the Town Council, confirmed to Southborough News that all contracts were signed in March to progress with the building of the Hub.

Cllr Elliott said: “Although the Labour group may well be in control, they can’t stop it now. Even if Southborough Town Council votes against anything they are outnumbered by the other two (councils).”

Hub Nov18 Library

And Labour’s Cllr Blackwell said: “There is limited scope to change what has already been signed off.  All of the legal contracts have been signed with the various parties and the finances agreed, so a lot of the wheels are already in motion. The NHS funding has all been signed off.”

The cladding is not finally decided while Cllr Blackwell also thought there could be a revision to the current plan that the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall would run the Hub’s Hall with none of any profits going to Southborough Town Council.

The cladding planned for the Hub is apparently concrete that is digitally printed to look like terracotta stone, which still needs to be approved by Tunbridge Wells Planning.

Cllr David Elliott said: “We are handing over the Town Council in a very healthy financial state compared to what it was four years ago. We would liked to have retained control of the Town Council but it is not to be. We had all the important votes in March to enable the project to go ahead but I have to say I am rather disappointed.”

Cllr Elliott continued: “I fully understand why people wanted to retain the Royal Victoria Hall, but once the decision had been made and it had been demolished, why have the opposition parties continued to vote against everything we’ve tried to do?  Why can’t we all work together?”

Old Council New Council
North Ward – Cons 6 4
North Ward – Lib Dems 1 3
West Ward – Cons 1 0
West Ward – Labour 4 5
East+HB Ward – Cons 4 2
East +HB Ward – Labour 2 4
TOTAL STC – Cons 11 6
TOTAL STC – Labour 6 9
TOTAL STC – Lib Dems 1 3

In Southborough North ward, where 7 councillors are elected, only 10 people stood for election.  The 3 Liberal Democrats were significantly more popular than the 7 Conservatives, suggesting more Conservatives may have been defeated had the Lib Dems managed to find more than 3 candidates willing to stand.  The 4 Conservatives were effectively elected “by default.”

Here are the May 2019 Town Council election results in full.

TOWN COUNCIL – North Ward elects 7
POILE Trevor Lib Dem 922 Elected
PRANCE Jacqueline Lib Dem 694 Elected
BULLION Alan Lib Dem 631 Elected
ELLIOTT David Cons 477 Elected
KINGHORN Ian Cons 390 Elected
HARRIS Phil Cons 381 Elected
KINGHORN Olwyn Cons 367 Elected
JAMIL Nasir Cons 317 Not elected
WEATHERLY Lynne Cons 306 Not elected
UDDIN Mo Cons 265 Not elected

Below are pictured the three Lib Dems representing North Ward on the Town Council: Trevor Poile, Jackie Prance and Alan Bullion.

Lib Dem

TOWN COUNCIL – West Ward elects 5
BLACKWELL Nicholas Labour 408 Elected
EVANS Peter Labour 383 Elected
MUNN Graham Labour 380 Elected
WHARTON Mandy Labour 364 Elected
CLAY Martin Labour 345 Elected
BIRD Alexis Lib Dem 213 Not elected
MARKWELL Leah Cons 159 Not elected
OAKFORD Peter Cons 133 Not elected
MARKWELL Toby Cons 127 Not elected
BAILEY Matthew Cons 115 Not elected
ELDRIDGE Jon Cons 106 Not elected


TOWN COUNCIL – East & High Brooms elects 6
HILL Dianne Labour 681 Elected
LANE Yvonne Labour 603 Elected
FRANCIS Dariel Elizabeth Labour 584 Elected
LEWIS Alain Labour 563 Elected
LEWIS-GREY Alexander Cons 248 Elected
BACKHOUSE Bob Cons 245 Elected
CAMP Christopher Cons 231 Not elected
PULLER Max Cons 225 Not elected
SCOTT David Cons 224 Not elected
FARTHING Steven Cons 201 Not elected


Southborough’s Big Vote on Thursday

Southborough residents only get a chance to vote for their representatives on the Town Council once every four years and that big day is coming soon – Thursday 2nd May.

The Conservatives currently have a big majority on the Town Council and they have used their time in power to press ahead with plans to create the “Southborough Hub”, which is due to combine a new hall, library, medical centre and clubhouse for local footballers.

The Hub is likely to be a key issue in voters’ minds. The Conservatives had promised the Hub would be ready by now but repeated delays mean that – while the building of new housing to finance the project is well advanced – the planned new public facilities (see below for plans) have yet to start construction.

Nov18 Hub Air

In May 2017, bulldozers moved in to clear the site by demolishing the Local Heritage Asset, the Royal Victoria Hall, that had been part of Southborough’s history for a 117 years (see picture below from “Castles on the Ground” blog).

RVH demolish

All the issues surrounding the Hub and the Royal Victoria Hall have been extensively covered previously on this blog (see archive). There are 31 candidates for the 18 Town Council seats, which are all unpaid roles.

There are three different voting areas. The area covered by North Ward is shown below.


In the Southborough North Ward, 7 councillors will be elected from these 10 candidates, with voting taking place at St Thomas’s Church Hall in Pennington Road:

STC – North Ward Home Address Party
BULLION Alan Tun Wells TN2 Liberal Dem
ELLIOTT David Sir David’s Park Conservative
HARRIS Phil Park House Gdns Conservative
JAMIL Nasir Tun Wells Conservative
KINGHORN Ian West Park Ave Conservative
KINGHORN Olwyn West Park Ave Conservative
POILE Trevor Fernhurst Cres Liberal Dem
PRANCE Jacqueline Harland Way Liberal Dem
UDDIN Mo Tun Wells Boro Conservative
WEATHERLY Lynne Tun Wells Conservative

Meanwhile, in West Ward, it is considerably more competitive with 11 candidates chasing 5 seats, with voting at the Community Centre in Crundwell Rd:

STC – West Ward Home Address Party
BAILEY Matthew Tun Wells Conservative
BIRD Alexis Bright Ridge Liberal Dem
BLACKWELL Nicholas Pinewood Gdns Labour
CLAY Martin Gt Bounds Drive Labour
ELDRIDGE Jon Tun Wells Boro Conservative
EVANS Peter Holden Park Rd Labour
MARKWELL Leah Carville Ave Conservative
MARKWELL Toby Carville Ave Conservative
MUNN Graham Holden Park Rd Labour
OAKFORD Peter Pennington Rd Conservative
WHARTON Mandy Broomhill Pk Rd Labour

Finally, in Southborough East and High Brooms Ward, there are 10 candidates for 6 council seats with voting at St Matthew’s Church.

STC – East & High Brooms Home Address Party
BACKHOUSE Bob Tun Wells TN2 Conservative
CAMP Christopher Tun Wells TN2 Conservative
FARTHING Steven Tun Wells Boro Conservative
FRANCIS Dariel Elizabeth High Brooms Rd Labour
HILL Dianne Colebrook Rd Labour
LANE Yvonne South View Rd Labour
LEWIS Alain Holden Park Rd Labour
LEWIS-GREY Alexander Tun Wells Conservative
PULLER Max Tun Wells Boro Conservative
SCOTT David Tun Wells Conservative

The candidates’ address has been given by exact road if the candidate lives in Southborough. Some further details are on the Borough Council website.

Meanwhile, the Tunbridge Wells Borough elections are also taking place, with two council seats in play in Southborough.  Each area is represented by more than one councillor under a system of rolling votes for the Borough Council.

The main issue in the Borough election is the Conservative scheme to spend £ 90 million on building a new council run theatre and Tunbridge Wells Town Hall on part of Calverley Grounds (artist’s impression of plans below).  Previous bogs have also extensively covered this issue (see archive).

image e crop

Voting for the Borough is in two constituencies, with each electing one councillor.  In Southborough North, four parties are standing with the Conservatives having been victorious in 3 votes in the past four years, although the margin has varied.  This time the candidates are:

Southborough North Home Address
BLACKWELL Nicholas Pinewood Gdns Labour
ELLIOTT David St David’s Park Conservative
LUKACS Stephen Tun Wells TN2 UKIP
POILE Trevor Fernhurst Cres Liberal Dem

Four years ago, David Elliott won the seat convincingly for the Conservatives with 58% of the vote (1,343 votes), with Labour taking 16% (372), Liberal Democrats 15% (357) and UKIP 11% (256 votes).

But just four months later – in a by-election in September 2015, it was much closer in Southborough North, with just 50 votes in it, as the Conservatives took 44% (483 votes), Liberal Democrats 39% (434 votes) and UKIP 17% (188 votes).

Last year, Joe Simmons was returned for the Conservatives with 51% (614 votes), with Lib Dems on 29% (354 votes) and Labour on 20% (247 votes). There was no UKIP candidate.

The second Southborough area is a combination of the other two Town Council Wards and so is named Southborough and High Brooms. This seat has recently been won by both Labour and Conservative Parties.  Here are the candidates this time:

Southborough and High Brooms
BIRD Alexis Bright Ridge Liberal Dem
EVERITT Luke Tun Wells TN2 Labour
MARSHALL Christine Gordon Rd TN4 UKIP
PULLER Max Tun Wells Conservative

Four years ago, Zulhash Uddin won the seat for the Conservatives with 38% of the vote (1,289 votes), with Labour winning 36% (1,235), UKIP 16% (546) and Liberal Democrats 10% (325).  But last year, Labour won Southborough and High Brooms with 62% (1,094 votes), Conservatives 26% (455) and Lib Dems on 12% (211 votes).

Voting on Thursday will take place between 7am and 10pm.

Emmetts Garden Provides Springtime Inspiration for Gardeners

The National Trust’s Emmetts Garden is only 20 minutes drive from Southborough and its exotic shrubs are currently displaying magnificent springtime colours to energise local gardeners.

In contrast to this weekend’s sadly overcast weather, a fortnight ago (see below) the sun was shining brightly on Emmetts Garden, which is one of the highest spots in Kent.


There is a huge collection of plants – large and small – in six acres of land.


P1150055.JPGEmmetts Garden is an amazingly quiet, peaceful spot – well away from motorway noise and also usually free from the rumble of aeroplanes heading for Gatwick.  It is around 200 metres above sea level (600 feet), so offers glorious panoramic views over unblemished countryside.


A banker, Frederic Lubbock, was responsible for the original planting out of the gardens in 1893-95, while the shrub garden was added ten years later.  Frederic’s elder brother was the ant expert and author Sir John Lubbock.

Emmetts Crop

After Frederic Lubbock’s death in 1927,  the estate was acquired by an American geologist Charles Watson Boise, who handed the estate (minus the house) to the National Trust in 1964.

P1150058Emmetts Garden is free for National Trust members but costs £12 for adult tickets and £30 for a family ticket. It opens every day from 10am to 5pm from March to December.  There is also a small cafe and a large picnic area and childrens’ play area.  You can walk through woodland to Chartwell.

On fine weekend days it does get busy and had to close briefly at around 2pm on the sunny Sunday a fortnight ago. It is quieter in the late afternoon. Here’s how to get there on the non-A21 picturesque route:

Emmetts Map.jpg

It takes 25 minutes by car on my country road route above, compared with 15 minutes if you follow the dreary “google map/satnav” A21 Sevenoaks By-pass route.  But the scenic route is cheaper on fuel! Just put “no motorways” in google maps to avoid the A21.



P1150054.JPGThe rock gardens and pond (above) are fenced in to prevent rabbits digging up the plants. The bluebells and rose garden will be attractions for the coming months, while the Trust also runs Easter egg hunts and – in August – holds open air theatre productions.

Wanted! Old News About Pennington Road

Southborough has a rich history to celebrate and on this blog over the coming year I hope to uncover first hand memories of how people lived in the town over the past 150 years.

In the past decade it has become much easier to trace the names and occupations of the people who lived in every street in Victorian England.

But what is so often missing is the colour – most of the letters and diaries of how people felt at the time – painting a picture of the personalities of Southborough people – all seem to have vanished into nothing.

I’m starting with Pennington Road, as that’s where I live and where I have already rediscovered some remarkable memories and pictures.  A postcard showing the Vicarage Road turn off on the left is below.

Penn Rd VicarRd

So my appeal is this:  If you have anything in a loft or out of print book that can conjure up life in Southborough from the 1840s to the 1930s, do let me know. My email is:

Pennington Road started as Pennington Lane, simply a route to apparently the oldest surviving building in Southborough, Ivy House Farm, described in the official English Heritage listing as a “single bay open hall dwelling of c.1460”.  See below:

Ivy House farm

Below is a map found in Southborough library described as “Plan of Freehold building and other land situate at Southborough in the parish of Tonbridge, Kent.” The plan states that an auction of the lots 1 to 18 shown below was held at the Hand and Sceptre Inn on July 2nd, 1849 at 3 o’clock.  Penn Rd 1849.jpeg

The builders soon got to work and within ten years a good proportion of what survives in Pennington Road had been built.  This is from a map surveyed in 1869 – exactly 150 years ago!

Penn Rd map 1868 crop.jpg

A second map found in Southborough Library is drawn differently but is also from the 1860s and has the same selection of buildings.

Penn Rd 1860s cu.jpg

Finding out who lived in all these houses has been made easier by the online visibility of the ten yearly census and the Kelly’s street directories.  But it is still not that simple.

In the census of 1861, Pennington Road has no numbering system. The set of terraces next to Castle Street (shown below now and in approx 1911) appeared to have been described as “Edward Place”.

Edward crop

Pen 1

By the census of 1881, houses were numbered but the Post Office had decided to count sequentially starting down the right hand side of the road.  Edward Sheepwash  was a resident of the house on the far right in 1911.  The census calls him a “job master” and his sign is just visible above and reads “Fly and Funeral Car Proprietor. Carriages of Every Description.”

Back in 1881, Mr Sheepwash’s house was number 7 and living there then was a greengrocer called William J. Carpenter. By the time Mr Sheepwash had his sign up, the Post Office had had a rethink and renumbered to the current scheme, so all the houses on the south of Pennington Road had a number double their original ones. Mr Sheepwash therefore lived in 14 Pennington Road.

A great website with the residents from the 1881 census clearly laid out according to the old numbering system (ie half the current number) is here:

Here are some more views of St Thomas’ Church completed in 1860.

Penn Church 2.jpg

St Thomas’ Church was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 4th December 1860, in the presence of the 85 year-old Mrs Sarah Pugh, at whose expense the church had been built and endowed. In 1871 the church was given its own parish, carved out of what had been St Peter’s parish.  For more see:

Penn Church 1

Most of the following pictures come courtesy of Mr Fred Scales of Edward Street who has a magnificent collection of images of Southborough past. So let’s walk further down the road…

pen 4

In the middle of the picture above is the building now known as “The Old Dairy” – another of Pennington Road’s listed buildings.  It used to be two separate cottages and there’s another closer view on the left in the picture below.  In 1861, they were “Deacons Cottages”. Eliza Collins was a resident in 1861 and – remarkably – for all the following 40 years too, by which time her house had been known as 44 Pennington Road and (by 1891) number 5 Pennington Road. Penn Rd crop v2.jpg

Off on the right are what I think were once called “Stanley Villas”.  One of them is now number 34 Pennington Road and shown below – many years before the grey render walls were painted white.

No 34 full crop.jpg

It would be fascinating to know who the people in the picture above were.  Without doubt they would have known some of the Gallards – a family that played a huge part in the history of Pennington Road.

Charles Gallard (1823-1885) was the builder who probably put up many of the Pennington Road houses in the 1850s.  He had a son – also a builder – Charles J. Gallard (1850-1906), who’s bequest funded the Gallards Almshouses, and who left his mark with the many drain covers still in use in Pennington Road today.


Charles Gallard’s first wife died in 1852, but he remarried a few years later.  As a result, Charles J. Gallard had one sister, plus 3 half brothers and 7 half sisters. Among his half sisters was a lady called Isabella Gallard (1861-1952).  I’m pleased to say that – remarkably – I have spoken recently to a lady who gave me a first hand of what Isabella was like.

The lady was Isabella’s niece who moved into 36 Pennington Road in the 1950s when her family came to look after Isabella, then 90 years old. The picture of Isabella Gallard on a horse was apparently from 1909 in Ireland.

Issie only crop

Isabella Gallard was clearly a stubborn lady – she was still insisting in the 1950s that electricity was “far too dangerous” to have in the house and all the lighting in number 36 was still by gas. Her house had a “tradesman’s entrance” although the path started and ended from the same places and just involved the tradesmen walking to the left of the hedge while the ladies and gentlemen walked up a different path to the right of the hedge.

How I tracked down a relative of Isabella Gallard is a story for another blog, but I learnt some fascinating detail and I am hoping – that with this blog – I can capture a lot more.

Further down Pennington Road (but still before Park Road) is the house once called Mount Sandford – now 44. Pictured then and now.

Mt Sandford big.jpg


In the picture taken this week you can see number 44A has been added (far left), while to the right in this picture is a building on the site of the demolished old 42 (formerly 21 and formerly Shenley Villas). Then there is the still surviving Victorian building number 40 (now divided into two large semi-detatched houses 40 and 40A with some huge trees in their front gardens).  Finally, number 38 was demolished in the 1980s and is now Dennington Court flats, whose red roof tiles are just visible on the far right above.

Newspaper articles can play a part in adding colour to the historical facts.  An article from November 6, 1874 in the Courier discusses legal action taken by the local board against the first Charles Gallard “for refusing to pay £9 14s 8d” relating to work paving Pennington Road.

The article says: “In April 1873 it was determined that the road should be properly paved and flagged and notice was thereupon given to the owners of the land abutting on the road, requiring them to do the repairs in accordance with certain specifications which were deposited at the surveyor’s offices.”

It appears most owners didn’t do the work, so the Local Board did the work itself and then charged the land owners.  Mr Gallard apparently didn’t agree that the Local Board had the power to do this, as he argued “Pennington-road was a highway dedicated to the parish.”

A Mr Stidolph, who was a surveyor of the Southborough roads in 1856-57 spoke in support of Mr Gallard, stating that the road then was “in a very bad state, and Mr Corke, who got stuck fast in the road, talked about indicting the surveyor.”  The surveyor ordered road improvements.

But the Local Board solicitor insisted that “the surveyor, putting a few stones upon the road at parish expense did not make it a public road….there must be evidence of dedication.”

The report ends with the bench concluding that this road “up to a gate at the end of Mr Blackburn-Maze’s property” (then number 37 – i.e. the last before the farm) “was a public highway, therefore the Local Board have no status”.

This result appears to be victory for Mr Gallard in avoiding the Local Board’s bills, even though everyone else in Pennington Road appeared to have already paid up to the Council.  The Gallards do indeed seem to have been a stubborn lot.

Finally for this blog is a (unfortunately somewhat blurred) picture of the terraces that were 26-30, now 52 to 60 Pennington Road.

Pen 3.jpg

The pictures conjour up a quieter time without the traffic and aeroplane noise. In Victorian times, the census shows Pennington Road was a mix of terraces for the working classes (carpenters, gardeners etc) and reasonably large villas for the middle class such as retired military gentlemen, widows “living on independent means” and doctors.  The villas all had servants to clean, cook and light the open coal fireplaces.

The newspaper archives also reveal how people of Pennington Road came together in August 1887 as 110 local residents signed a petition which was presented to the Local Board (council).  This petition was in opposition to potential extra traffic on the road thanks to an apparent scheme for a Southborough railway station at the viaduct, accessed via Pennington Road.

The petition read: “The traffic of a station thoroughfare would be extremely detrimental to their comfort and interests, whether as occupiers or owners; that it would entirely ruin the present rural privacy and quiet of the properties on both sides of Pennington-road….it would much deteriorate the value of the villas already built by altering the character of the road and so making them less desirable for their present class of tenants.”

The petition argues that the result of a Southborough station would: “be the encouragement of cheap trippers, in any multitude, to visit the Southborough Common; whereas at present most of these disperse themselves among the nearer and larger commons adjacent to the Tunbridge Wells station, and leave Southborough alone.”

The Local Board correctly concluded that the railway had no plan at all to put a station at the viaduct and were aiming instead to put one “in Tunbridge Wells by the Grosvenor Bridge”.  A certain Mr Powell told the meeting: “The Southborough station was a sort of red herring thrown across the tract.”

Scaled-back Southborough Hub Plans Win Approval from Planners

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.

Nov18 Hub Air

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.”

Kinghorn 18According 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. ”

New ground floor Feb19 v2The 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:

New ground floor Feb19 cu v2There 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.”

New ground floor Feb19 Hall v2.jpgMr 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.”

Hub Nov18 First

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.”

oakford-newCllr 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.”

New ground floor Feb19 drsThe 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:

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

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:

New First floor Rooms


New First floor doctors.jpg

Meanwhile this is how the football pavilion overlooking the playing fields will look:

Hub Nov18 Soccer

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.

New Hub Site Plan v2.jpgThe 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.

Local Priest says Southborough Hub: “Could Turn into a Complete Disaster”

The strong feelings at last week’s first ever Southborough Town Meeting on the latest  Hub plans have not yet prompted a major response on the Tunbridge Wells Planning Portal, where residents’ chance to place objections runs out soon.

Only 27 people had registered comments as of Monday afternoon.

Below is a 3 minute youtube video that gives a flavour of last week’s Town Meeting.  Cllr Nick Blackwell speaks first, then Brian Dury, who chaired the meeting, then you hear the audio of residents’ comments, then there’s some film of people as they left the event.

One of the most outspoken contributions at last Tuesday’s public meeting was from Revd Rachel Wilson, who’s the priest at St Thomas’s Church in Pennington Rd, Southborough. Revd Wilson said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to be an enormous wasted opportunity…. it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”

Hub Nov18 Library

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. Liberal Democrat Councillor, Trevor Poile, and Labour’s Nick Blackwell called the meeting, but it was not attended by any members of the ruling Conservative group on the Town Council.

I have now edited a 12 minute audio file of the highlights. There follows a transcript of the main comments in the order on the 12 minute highlights file.

Glenys Carsworth from Vicarage Road commented: “My principle concern is that it just looks so out of keeping with the local surrounding and it is a particularly unattractive building that I think will just be a blot on the landscape.”

Then a resident of Hythe Close, Helen Robinson, expressed concerns about the safety of the access road that runs into her garages.  She objected to the current green boarding surrounding the Hub site that now blocks her view when trying to drive out from her garage. “How am I going to get in and out of the garage that I rent?  And what about the safety of the young people that live in Hythe Close?”

Sue Pemberton from Doone Bray was the first to get widespread applause when she suggested that all the different functions of the building will clash. 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.”

Hub Nov18 Gnd Floor

Linda Whiteleg 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).” She also expressed safety concerns about the access road and the garages. Finally, she objected to the open plan library and said “there is no quiet place to just sit and look at that book any more?”

Robert Shaw from London Road said that because of the small size of the dressing rooms: “There’s going to be no dance schools using the theatre and no pantomime. You cannot run a theatre on that amount of seats. People always used to come to the pantomime in Southborough year in year out.” That prompted more applause.

Hub Nov18 In Theat

Peter Maresh from Ruscombe Close asked: “Where is the project board and who are these three monsters?” Laughter ensued then the meeting organisers explained that the 3 member board was made up of Ian Kinghorn from Southborough Town Council, Mike Hill from Kent County Council and Lynne Weatherly from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.  Not one of them attended due to prior engagements.

This prompted further resident response: “I work in business and I do projects all the time. Who on earth has appointed this project board and who are they accountable to, because it doesn’t appear that they know what they are doing…How do you get rid of them? Because they are not doing their job. They are not project managing it. They are not taking account of the people who they are doing this for…what qualifications do they have to sit on that board and do a good job? Who checked them out to make sure they could do it?”

The question “How do we find out how much money they have wasted so far?” could not be answered because the finances of the project are still only known to the project board.

Hub Nov18 First

Revd Rachel Wilson from St Thomas’s Church in Southborough said: “I can see a lot of potential good in a project like this which is why I am so saddened by this, as it seems to me to be an enormous wasted opportunity. There could be so much good come out of this and I am particularly concerned about the cost implications as a member of the clergy and as a person who is reliant on social services and social care.”

Revd Wilson continued: “I am appalled by the idea that Kent County Council are spending this sort of money to the detriment of other things. I think it is appalling and as a member of the clergy we need to be aware of this sort of thing as well, because there is enormous potential for good and it seems to me that if it is not handled well it could turn into a complete disaster.”

Hub Nov18 MedicRichard Pepper said: “We are angry people….people are angry because there’s no one with any common sense running these shows.  That’s what’s giving us all here – grief, because we have been users over the years of these facilities.”

Rebecca from Vale Rd said: “There’s so many faults with it.  I’m just very very concerned that whatever our suggestions are, they won’t actually get heard or listened to because the people involved are not turning up to the meetings. Also if you’ve got a show in, what’s the height of the scene docks? I’m looking at a 90 degree angle to get the scenery from a lorry in. It’s ridiculous.”

Paul from Parkhouse Gardens said: “This whole thing beggars belief to be honest. The outside of the building looks architecturally uninspired. The inside of the building has far too many competing interests for it to be feasible or practical to use. I also have a point about flat roofs – they are a disaster long term…hopeless you know…they should be ditched and put sloping roofs instead. But I am very very concerned about the amount of money that’s been wasted already. Two years of wasted work.”

Nov18 Hub Air

John who’s wife runs the Southborough School of Dance said: “Having listened to the architects during the last meeting at the library, the architects did not seem to know exactly the needs of those people who want to use the theatre. I think it would be a good idea to write to all these people who used the Royal Victoria Hall and ask what is it they need when they come to hire the hall.”

Michael Howes from Holden Road asked: “Cllr Blackwell and others seem to be very critical of this plan and I agree it is not perfect – but what is your alternative? And if it is more elaborate than this plan, how are you going to pay for it?”

Cllr Blackwell responded by saying the finances are still secret and so discussing alternatives is difficult.  But he argued that the Hub could potentially be improved if the planned retail space became a bar and the library was retained on its current site and replaced in the Hub by bigger theatre changing rooms. He also said further consultation work was needed to see if theatre was still viable at all in Southborough.

Angry Town Meeting Calls for More Consultation About Southborough Hub

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.

Hub Meeting Dec18.jpg

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.

Nov18 Hub Air

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.

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