On Wednesday 9 November 2016, Tunbridge Wells Planning Committee voted 11-0 to support the Southborough Hub plans, with one abstension. It meant they condemned the Royal Victoria Hall to be demolished. Here is a recording of the final 1 1/2 hours of that meeting in two chunks:
Top image is of the man who negotiated the Hub land deals, Cllr Peter Oakford, giving his statement and below are some of the Planning Committee members with planning officer, Lynda Middlemiss, in the blue cardigan.
NB The transcription below is now complete and has been checked. It starts with the public comments, and the committee discussion is at the end. Readers can make up their own minds over whether they think the issues were adequately discussed.
FROM RECORDING 50506:
Recording starts with the end of an account by Lynda Middlemiss (LM), Major Planning Projects Officer with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, who has been summarising the Planning Officer’s report and providing any corrections.
(00:14) I also want to correct paragraph 6.06 with regard to councillors who have commented on the application. So apologies for this, but I will just confirm what paragraph 6.06 should have said which is that that respondents in support include:
– Cllr David Elliott who is a Borough and Town Councillor,
– Cllr Uddin who is a Borough and Town Councillor,
– Cllr Oakford who is a Borough, County and Town Councillor, and
– Cllr Markwell who is a Town Councillor.
Respondents who object include:
– Cllr Munn who is a Borough and Town Councillor,
– Cllr Hill who is a Borough and Town Councillor,
– Nick Blackwell who is a Town Councillor,
– Cllr Brown who is a Town Councillor and
– Cllr Poile who is also a Town Councillor.
I am aware that there have been further representations that have been circulated to members. And there are two of these in particular that I just wanted to comment on. The first one is from an organisation called SEAM – which stands for Southborough Environmental Action Movement. We would like to just make a brief response to the points that they have made. They have considered that the report contains errors of fact.
So, firstly, in relation to the comments about an ‘iconic building’ in paragraph 7.69. Just to say that this word formed part of the Urban Design Officer’s comments and that they represent the officer’s opinion and were accurately reported. The appraisal section of the report clarifies the national and local policy background against which members should judge the design merits of the proposals and that’s at paragraphs 10.36 to 10.41 and I would point out that there is no policy requirement for the building to be iconic.
Just in relation to Southborough character, there is concern expressed about the statement that “the Hub building will create a sense of place within an area that currently lacks any coherent townscape character”. Your officers would stand by this comment which was made in relation to the eastern side of London Road where the application site is located. And there was reference in the document to paragraph 4.54 of the Local Plan the character of the Victorian frontages but this refers to the shop fronts on the other side of the road.
Just briefly in relation to the state of the Royal Victoria Hall where a number of shortcomings of the building were listed. This is information that we received from the applicants who do stand by the points they made, with the exception of the point relating to compliance with fire regulations, which they say would need further investigation. Obviously members have seen for themselves from the site visit earlier today the existing condition of the main spaces within the building and can make their own judgement on the general state of the building.
Views of Southborough residents and this issue about the vote for preferred solutions to providing the Hub. All I can say that we are satisfied that there has been pre-application community consultation over the last few years in line with national planning guidance. I’d add that matters before members tonight are not about the pre-application process but of course the merits of the proposals.
In relation to the facilities for soccer and recreation I have explained the proposals are for compensating for the loss of the pitches and the existing changing facilities and concluded that these are adequate to meet the needs of planning policy requirements. So this matter ultimately will be judged by central government, as you will have seen that if members are minded to approve this application, there is a requirement to refer it first to central government through the National Planning Policy Casework Unit.
Very briefly with regard to the comment on relevance of planning policies, just to say we do consider that the report accurately makes reference to the relevant national and local policies and the proposals have been judged in light of these.
There has been a further representation which I think that members have received from something called CPA which I have not managed to find out actually what the organisation called CPA is, but – in fact – the comments that they have made cover points that are already set out in the agenda. They raised the issue about funding of the medical centre querying why this will be public funded which I think is based on a misunderstanding, as in fact the medical centre is one of the key income generators of the scheme – the other being the sale of the land covered by the outline consent.
We also have further representations which you may not be aware of from individual addresses in Southborough: 24 additional letters and they make points that have been already been summarised in the report.
We have had details of an online petition and this contains 1,274 names. The petition states ‘Please do not approve the Southborough Hub plans in their current state. We want new high quality designed community buildings that are fit for purpose and are centred around a refurbished Royal Victoria Hall. We want less of our playing fields lost to development and less in town traffic congestion, parking problems and pollution’. The person who organised the petition has analysed the addresses for us and has confirmed that 67% of these have a TN4 postcode which is mainly in Southborough area, 16% have a TN1 or TN2 postcode (which is largely Tunbridge Wells and Pembury) and 17% live in wider Kent and beyond. So you can see from that that a high proportion of people 67% are from Southborough.
I think it is fair to point out however that there is one image that can be viewed on the website for the petition and I am going to show this on the screen. This related to an earlier version of the proposals and I felt it was only fair to point that out so you can see it. Whilst there are obviously some clear similarities with the proposals there are also some quite significant differences, particularly with regard to the presentation to London Road.
Chairman I am going to move onto the appraisal which starts at page 67 of the report where there are a number of key issues that are identified at paragraph 10.1. I don’t propose to go through the main issues with you in any detail but I would like us to look together at the conclusions from page 23.
I think I will just read these out to you starting from paragraph 10.90:
“These proposals provide the opportunity for the reinvigoration and the regeneration of Southborough Town Centre. The proposals will replace currently unused land and vacant buildings which detract from the amenity of the town with a new community focused mixed use development. Redevelopment of this site has been a long held objective of successive local plans for this area.
Whilst support for the new Hub building has been received from many members of the public there has been a considerable degree of opposition. Key areas of concern relate to the loss of the Royal Victoria Hall, the reduction in the area of playing pitches, and the design and external materials of the new Hub building.
Whilst demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall, a non-designated heritage asset is proposed it is not possible to prevent the demolition of this building through this planning application. Notwithstanding this, in accordance with the building’s status as a non-designated heritage asset, this committee report assesses the harm from the loss of this building against the benefits of the new development proposals. In weighing this up it is concluded that the demolition of the building is justified due mainly to the flexibility offered by the new-build scheme and the efficient use this makes of this key town centre site.
As further clarified during the course of this application, these proposals will provide tangible benefits to the adjacent playing fields which in your officers’ opinions outweigh the loss of a relatively small area of playing pitches when compared to that which will remain. The new sports pavilion, improvements to the playing pitch levels on parts of the site to increase the playable area will increase the playing capacity and enhance the facilities offered here.
The design of the proposed Hub building is uncompromisingly modern and is not to everyone’s taste. However, when account is taken of national planning policy on design, the building and the site layout has much to commend it. The building has been deliberately been designed to be a landmark, signalling the heart of the town centre at all times of the day including the evening. The variety of the townscape particularly on the eastern side of London Road, provides an opportunity to provide a distinctive design. Concerns about the suitability of the translucent polycarbonate cladding are understood and there will be scope as the final details of the building design progresses to address this.
Concerns have also been expressed about the residential element of the outline proposals, but the proposals that are shown on the Illustrative Masterplan will be the subject of a further detailed reserved matters planning application which may propose a different layout and final mix. Conditions are proposed that will not prove restrictive to a residential developer who may wish to take a different approach. Whilst the maximum of 69 dwellings is considered to be acceptable in principle, the detailed proposals will be required to comply with a range of policies that will see good design and will protect the amenities of neighbouring properties.
In conclusion, when assessed in the light of the recently adopted Site Allocation Local Plan Policy AL/SO2 for this site, these proposals are considered to meet the detailed requirements of this policy and it is therefore recommended that grant planning permission is as set out in the recommendation, which is in fact on a separate document that was forwarded to you.
That is Appendix C of the separate document pack.
In terms of changes to the recommendation, that is in the separate document that you got. I want to just fill in some blanks under Item A and clarify in relation to the payment of developer contributions as these relate to an outline scheme – which we don’t yet know what the numbers of units will be – we wouldn’t actually require the specific figure.
So if I could ask you to disregard the first sum that is provided and the first four elements in fact all the section (i) and we would insert into the section 106 agreement the per dwelling contribution and the only things that are missing from the recommendation is just to clarify if there is houses proposed for the site, the figure per house would be £2,360.96 for primary school contributions and for secondary school contributions per house would be £2,359.80. The figure for the youth service would be £39.75 per dwelling (whether it is a flat or house) and the same for the library contribution as well.
So having cleared that up I think for once I am not actually suggesting any other changes to the conditions. So that is all I have to say for the time being.
Chair Mrs Julia Soyke speaks: I would like to invite speakers to come forward for a maximum of 3 minutes each starting with Mr M Betts on behalf of petitioners.
Photo of objectors in front row: Martin Betts, Ian Gavin, Nick Blackwell, Anya Heilpern and Diana Blackwell (who read the objection from Cllr Dianne Hill, who had lost her voice)
Behind in the picture on the far left is Andrew Eyre from the Stag theatre in Sevenoaks who recommended demolishing the Royal Victoria Hall.
(15.30) Objector 1:
I am Martin Betts a resident of Southborough – representing the Southborough Environmental Action Movement. Our petition is signed by over 1274 people who object to the application in its current form. 840 of these come from the Southborough area. The photo that was used was that available at the time of the petition. New ones have only just appeared on the planning portal.
This is an extraordinary response in just over two weeks – not matched by any of the Kent County Council consultation exercises. Over 230 written objections have been received on the planning portal. This represents 87% of comments received. Most of them from Southborough and Tunbridge Wells.
Objections are NOT to town development. They are to the poor design of the Hub, demolishing the historic Royal Victoria Hall, building too many houses, traffic congestion, parking and air pollution, and permanent loss of recreational space. The petition calls for rejection of the plans in their current form since we believe that they do not truly reflect the wishes of Southborough residents.
We have submitted errors of fact in the Planning Officers report which do put serious question marks over their recommendation to accept the application. Many of these still stand. We have sent photos showing that the proposed Hub building is not landmark or iconic and is similar in style to at least 2 Sainsbury supermarkets designed by the architects.
The Hub will have a major impact on the already serious traffic congestion on the A26 – where 6 other residential developments have either started or are planned. We have all experienced the frustrations of the slow movement of traffic on the A26, and many of us the nightmare of joining it from the library junction. We challenge the validity of KCC Highways assessment that 69 new houses, an enlarged medical centre and library, and 350 seat theatre will have ‘a nil to trivial’ effect on traffic movements.
Parking is inadequate. We ask the applicant where an additional 18 parking places will be on land to the east of the Ridgewaye and when this was agreed by the town council. Residents are alarmed by dangerous levels of air pollution along the A26 and the library junction. This will be made worse by extra traffic movements that have not been assessed. We would like the plans rejected and new ones submitted with a new thorough transport and air quality assessment covering the issues we have raised.
(18:30) Objector 2:
My name is Ian Gavin. I live in Southborough. I work in international development and have considerable experience in commissioning consultations and surveys. I support town centre redevelopment and am prepared to accept the views of the majority, even if they are not my preference. What I do object to is distortion and manipulation and being told that the new build part plastic covered building has overwhelming support – when it clearly doesn’t.
I would dispute that the pre-application process gave any legitimacy to a new-build Hub in Southborough. Over the 8 weeks of the supposed consultation on options, only 367 people responded – that’s just 3% of the population. In itself this is a pitiful example of a failure to engage the community. Most of the respondents were older, showing a further failure to engage working age people.
When asked, most people said they wanted redevelopment and improvement in the town area – who wouldn’t? But despite the earlier petitions in support of keeping the Royal Victoria Hall signed by over 3,000 residents the applicants were only asked to give preference to just two schemes. (1) was demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall and new build and (2) was part-demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall. The additional box reading “other” is hardly a genuine option. Surveys with multiple choice answers should always provide the most likely answers as options and not just the answer you want to hear. In other words one should have been ‘Keep the Royal Victoria Hall’.
It is clear to me that the options were deliberately manipulated in favour of demolition and new build. Claiming support when less than 30 more people ticked box 1 than box 2 or other is shameful. Even though the survey was highly unrepresentative, it still provided clear preferences which the applicants have deliberately ignored, choosing instead to “cherry pick” results to support their decision.
The largest concerns from the survey were the impact on the environment, new housing, loss of green space and playing fields, design principles, increased traffic congestion and insufficient parking. Most said that the Hub must be in keeping with Southborough. They did not want a building that ‘aped Blackpool’ but wanted one that contributed to the modest air of living in our town.
Because these issues have not been properly dealt with by the applicants, many people are angry that they have not been listened to. This is why 848 people in Southborough have signed a petition to object in just over 2 weeks and 229 individuals have written their own individual objections to the planning authorities.
This is significantly better than the responses achieved by KCC and constitutes “real engagement” and shows “loving where you live”. I ask the Committee to reject this application so that residents can have a genuine voice and choice about what they want in THEIR town.
(21:31) Objector 3:
I am Nick Blackwell, a Southborough Town Councillor and an ex-Mayor who has lived in the town for over thirty years. My background is in Art and Design education, which I have taught for the last twenty years.
My first point is procedural – the submitted documents are inadequate and do not allow the public and planning authority to gain a full critical understanding of the application. The Site Elevations and Sections Drawing fails to include the main aspect of the building as seen from the South and its relationship to Yew Tree Road. It also omits the alms-houses, which would be dwarfed by the development.
The designs are of poor quality. This is a proposal that has failed to win public support. It is an off-the-peg model that remains largely unchanged over the last 18 months. The applicant presumes that the build palette of concrete tiles and polycarbonate should ignore the last 150 years of architecture to impose a dominant “new vernacular style” in defiance of the NPPF policy which insists that designs should, I quote: respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials.
Polycarbonate plastic is a cheap solution suited to temporary structures, urban settings and industrial uses. It degrades over time, will be expensive to maintain and more importantly fails to “sit harmoniously with its surroundings” as required by the NPPF. It is not iconic and it cannot be when it fails to respond to the local character. It is a low cost “ready-made” found everywhere from Milton Keynes to South Croydon.
It’s a standard template from the Pick Everard portfolio – including the Sainsbury’s supermarket already mentioned. The way the building is positioned means that people travelling through the town to Tunbridge Wells will not see its fully lit supermarket-style entrance. What they will see is the back end of the building – the glow in the dark box.
Do Committee members think that this is what Cllr Jukes meant when he said that the entry points to our historic Borough should be improved? On these grounds alone the application should be refused and the applicants sent away to resubmit plans after an independent Architectural Design Review. Please reject this application. We should never again be placed in the position where such poor and inappropriate planning is allowed to get this far.
(24.53) Objector 4:
My name is Anya Heilpern. I previously served on the Southborough Society’s planning committee. I believe that the recommendation to approve is inconsistent with local and national planning policy. A decision to approve the Hub proposal would be vulnerable to legal challenge.
I object because the proposal disregards Southborough’s local historic character and indeed will destroy it. This big ugly development on a main route will harm the unique character of the borough, which the Local Plan and National Planning Policy (the NPPF) require you to protect.
The recommendation disregards the effect on the setting of the nearby conservation area and on the even closer listed building. It pays no more than lip service to local Policy EN1, which says that you must respect the context of the site.
Paragraph 126 the NPPF emphasises that heritage assets are – and I quote – “an irreplaceable resource”. The Royal Victoria Hall is now formally recognised as a heritage asset. I do not believe that the applicant has met its obligation under the Borough’s own new Site Allocation Policy which states that “opportunities shall be explored to retain and improve the Royal Victoria Hall”.
It is very important for you to be aware that the officers’ report suggesting that the Hall is in a poor state is full of factual errors. There are no walls of the Hall collapsing. It was recently rewired. The Hall meets fire regulations. The dangerous fixed seats have been replaced already.
Even if you are not convinced, and believe that the Victoria Hall is too dilapidated to save, then the applicants still have a problem with planning law. That’s because Paragraph 130 of the NPPF says that if a building has been deliberately neglected, then you must disregard the damage resulting from that neglect.
Back in 2011, Cllr Peter Oakford described the Hall as an asset that was “continuing to thrive”. Developers are simply not allowed to benefit from letting old buildings go to rack and ruin.
Regarding the financial viability of the theatre an offer to run the Hall as a volunteer Trust was made – complete with business plan. But this was rebuffed. The Hall has been a cultural focus at the heart of Southborough for generations. There are overwhelming legal arguments for incorporating it in any new development, to preserve the character of the area, and we should. Please reject this application and Save the RVH!
(27.44) Supporter 1:
I am Andrew Eyre and I am the Chief Executive of the Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks. I have been working with the KCC on the technical and commercial aspects of the preparation of the planning application for the theatre part of the proposed Hub of Southborough and proposed replacement for the defunct Royal Victoria Hall.
I have been happy to being consulted as part of a wide process looking at aspects of the technical design, the commercial design, and of the overall building design. My interest is in the development of good regional theatre space. The loss of a theatre presence in Southborough would be a shame and in my opinion attempting to retain and refit the current theatre would be unwise.
The proposed theatre space is a pure theatre space with traditional raked seating, and flat stage which gives the most flexible format for drama, music and meetings. It is this flexibility which helps to drive the successful business model for the Stag. I know that the project has consulted with many experts on the internal design and I believe that the end result here provides a good balance for those competing demands.
The Royal Victoria Hall has had a long history but it has never been either a pretty building or an iconic building and was described even when brand new on its opening 116 years ago as austere. Its old and failing internal systems and equipment have for a long time been its commercial undoing. However the RVH site like that of the Stag Theatre enjoys a very visible and accessible central location in the middle of the town combined with three locations on one site, combining theatre, library and medical centre provides a readymade footfall which will support a sustained marketing effort.
I understand it is to be run by a borough council operation already in place at the Assembly Hall. This will provide known people, known processes and already present systems – box-office and marketing for example – which are necessary and take time to set up anew.
I would counsel that the two operations are visibly run independently so that the new Southborough Theatre does not become an adjunct of the Assembly Hall or indeed the other way around. Sevenoaks has benefited greatly especially with its night time economy since the Stag was revitalised in 2009, but do not underestimate the level of investment which has been needed to get us there.
Since that 2009 reopening, significant capital funds and a lot of hard work has been invested from funds generated by the theatre itself, from Sevenoaks Town Council and by Sevenoaks District Council. Southborough has the chance here of getting a technically modern theatre and community hall readymade for use. This is an opportunity for Southborough and Tunbridge Wells to gain modern “fit for purpose” community facilities, and – in my opinion – it should grasp with both hands.
30.45 Supporter 2:
My name is Ian Kinghorn (Vice Chair Southborough Society) and I have lived in Southborough for 30 plus years and I am here to represent the civic, heritage and amenity society of Southborough and High Brooms, in other words the Southborough Society.
The Southborough Society supports the proposed planning application to replace the Royal Victoria Hall and Southborough Town Council Offices with a bigger, modern, state of the art theatre, community meeting rooms, a sports pavilion, a medical centre, a cafe, a library and offices for our Southborough Town Council.
In Southborough and High Brooms we have 43 listed buildings but the Royal Victoria Hall has never been one of them. Unfortunately over the years, the fabric of the building has gone through a number of unsympathetic architectural alterations, namely the loss of key features to the original entrance (in particular, the wrought iron canopy that some of you may remember) that have not proved or been in keeping with the original Victorian building.
The external appearance is more like a 1950s cinema and interior, although charming, does not meet current Health and Safety standards and it is therefore no great surprise that English Heritage should confirm that is does not meet their strict criteria for the post-1890 building and did not consider the building worthy of listing to protect its fabric.
During recent years, Southborough has lacked a centre to the community and it is seen by many as little more than a thoroughfare to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells. A few years ago, there was a television programme, Location Location Location hosted by Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer, who sought to re-locate house hunters to Southborough. And one of the most telling comments from that particular programme was after just one hour in the town, one couple commented that Southborough had no heart or centre to the community and – of course – it certainly gives that appearance.
However, this application offers the residents of Southborough, a real opportunity to reverse the gradual decline and reinvigorate Southborough’s London Road area around the Royal Victoria Hall with a multi-functional theatre with increased retractable seating, thereby offering greater flexibility that will maximise the use of the hall and above all, meets and complies with disability act.
A modern library, a medical centre, council offices, a cafe, meeting rooms and all these in one location which will create a central, social and recreational meeting space for local residents. We should also remember the football pavilion which is also part of the proposal and it is located close by.
Also, moving the pedestrian crossing to the proposed development would lead to even greater footfall.
Cheryl Clark: That is three minutes Chair
Ian Kinghorn: I urge all Councillors to support this.
34:05 Supporter 3:
Good evening. My name is Mick Di Palma and I am here representing Tunbridge wells Youth Football Club, more commonly known as Ridgewaye Football Club.
We have been providing a sporting outlet for children in the area since 1989 and this season we had well over 400 members – boys and girls ranging from 5 to 18 years old.
With that, we have over 60 volunteer coaches working with children. We are one of the biggest youth football clubs in the county. We are an FA Charter standard community club.
Since our formation we have never had any security over the use of the playing fields or our limited ancillary facilities which is the first floor of the sixth form centre that you see. We currently also have insufficient pitches.
A great part of the insecurity has come about as a result of the uncertainty over this Hub development. At the moment, we hire pitches around the area for our older teams on a Sunday. And on a Saturday we have just about reached full capacity for the younger teams.
We were initially extremely concerned about the proposed development. As you see, the number of pitches available to us was cut by two and a third full sized pitch was severely compromised.
Also, the clubhouse that was shown initially was nowhere near suitable for our current or future needs. During the planning process, we have met a number of times with representatives of the client body, Sport England, and the Football Association and discussed our concerns.
Sport England are objecting to the application as there is a loss of green space and potential sports playing area. And we fully support their mission to safeguard the opportunity for people to play sport throughout the country. However, as an organisation, we have to be more selfish in our outlook.
As part of the development, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council – as you see – have offered to undertake works to the Ridgewaye playing fields to enable more of the area to be used as pitches. With this work undertaken and the rearrangement of the pitch layout, we will in fact have more pitches than we have currently.
The plans for the clubhouse have also been revised and – whilst we would always want more – the current layout will be a big step forward for the football club. The FA have advised us (and I believe the client body) of the minimum standards for the work proposed for the grounds and the layout of the new pitches. They have also outlined where they believe the proposed clubhouse falls short of their standards.
As a club we believe the Hub development provides a great chance to improve facilities for the local community and – in particular – it provides us with the means to secure the club’s future, improve its facilities in line with other clubs of our size in the county and expand further the opportunity for children in the area to lead active lives.
We are always wary of broken promises but on the basis of the work to the grounds is carried out, we would support the application.
(37:15) Supporter 4: St Andrews Medical Centre
Hello, my name is Mark xxxxxx and I am from the West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group (on behalf of St Andrews Medical Centre) and would just like to outline some facts.
GP practices and teams that provide GP services are vital to patients, they are part of our communities and are the foundation of our NHS.
But, services are now under unprecedented pressure. Simon Stephens, the Chief Executive Officer for NHS England, sets out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, a clear plan of action so we have a responsive NHS, fit for the future.
The GP five year Forward View, focuses on four key areas; in particular, the workforce and the involvement of each doctor and the estate facilities for GP practices. Tunbridge Wells is one of the least deprived districts in England, however, 10% of children live in low income families and there are small pockets of deprivation that exist, particularly in areas like High Brooms which is a short distance from the proposed Southborough Hub.
Vulnerable patients exist, including patients who have hospitals stays for self harm, frail elderly patients who have fallen some with fractures and a large number of under fives who are admitted in to hospital.
It is these vulnerable patients who will benefit most from the proposed Southborough Hub. The GP Transformation Fund which is part of the Five Year Forward View, its a multi-million pound NHS program. The key drivers for this investment in this are to improve existing facilities or develop new facilities and increase the flexibility to accommodate multi-disciplinary teams.
The GP Transformation Fund in June 2016, West Kent submitted a recommendation to NHS England for investment in line with local NHS strategies, estate strategies, and Southborough Hub was one of those recommendations. In order to develop the facility we are reliant on a funding vehicle from NHS England which I can announce as of last week we have received approval and secured significant funding of up to a million pounds from NHS England over the next two years to contribute towards this project.
This was be the only successful bid within West Kent and I know of only three more in the Kent and Medway locality. The risk of not doing anything, the GP surgery in Southborough is at risk long term, there is no obligation for the NHS to provide a surgery in Southborough. If the planning application doesn’t go ahead, then the likelihood of the surgery closing or moving away in the next five years is very high. This will place an additional burden on surrounding GP practices within Kent.
The CCG wholeheartedly supports this application and would hope that the committee votes in favour of the development and the retention of services in Southborough. The significant investment from NHS England is in recognition of the alignment between the Southborough Hub plans and the Five Year Forward View and is a significant opportunity for the NHS in West Kent. Thank you.
(40:35) Cllr Glenn Lester (Supporter) – Southborough Town Councillor and Project Board member
My name is Glenn Lester. I am the Deputy Chairman of the Southborough Town Council and I am Southborough Town Council’s representative on the Project Board. This has been a very rewarding role for me as a volunteer and I feel extremely proud to bring thirty years of my construction knowledge to the team. I was also saddened at the misinformation that has been issued to try and encourage people to sign the petitions against our project when Southborough so desperately deserves a new start and the end to over twenty years of dereliction at its heart.
I joined the Council to support Colin Bothwell and Mike Rusbridge’s dream of a new, revitalised high street and a new identity and a new start for Southborough’s commercial centre. The officers within Southborough have been working in a dilapidated building for many years, with no access for people who are less able.
We have a crumbling theatre, we have football groups without adequate changing facilities and to bring forward all these new facilities, and a new library and brand new medical centre within the heart our our community is an absolute bonus (? word).
I can confirm, therefore that Southborough Town Council overwhelmingly backs the planning application having unanimous support from the Conservative Party including members of the Labour group. We voted 14 to 4 to submit this planning application.
Southborough Town Council therefore supports the conclusions of the Planning Officers and their recommendations for approval and hope this committee will vote unanimously for this long awaited project to bring forward a new start for Southborough, High Brooms and the Borough as a whole. Thanks very much.
Chair: Thank you very much. Next person to speak is Councillor Hill, a Borough Councillor for the Southborough and High Brooms Ward. I understand that Mrs Blackwell will read her contribution.
Borough Councillor Objection 1:
I am Dianne Hill, Southborough resident, member of the Southborough Society for 14 years, who like many of the members of the Southborough Society wish to say that Sir David Solomons’ gift to Southborough – the Royal Victoria Hall – should be saved.
I have been a Town and Borough Councillor for the area I live in. I was overwhelmingly elected again in May standing against the way that these plans have been put together, secretively and with little regard to local opinion. I have always supported town centre development based around a refurbished Royal Victoria Hall – without building on the Ridgewaye Fields to pay for it.
These former school fields, bought for protection by the Town Council in 1997, should be cherished. The 2006 Local Plan stated that Southborough had the lowest provision of recreational open space in the Borough. Its significance as Important Open Space was recognised in policy statements.
Although the Local Plan is being replaced with the Site Allocation Plan, the population of Southborough has continued to grow. But the amount of recreational space continues to be chipped away.
Southborough is home to the Tunbridge Wells Ridgewaye Football Club – one of the leading local youth teams. It has over 500 registered players. Every weekend the pitches are full to capacity. Extra pitches are even rented out from other local venues. The Football Association has highlighted the under-provision of pitches in the wider Borough. As a result the FA and Sport England have submitted an ‘outright objection’ to a project which will mean losing at least 2 junior pitches – with more at risk.
A phone call to Sport England this morning has confirmed that they will continue to object to this application. This is in spite of hurried changes made by the applicants prior to this meeting. These changes have involved repositioning a proposed pavilion that doesn’t meet FA standards, and building retaining walls that in turn will require planning permission – that is not yet guaranteed.
Little wonder Sport England has said no for the second time. Sport England and the FA have, of course, wider interests than just Southborough. They are not prepared to concede the loss of playing fields for an ill-thought out scheme that will damage the provision of playing pitches across the Borough. Sport England have said if their objections are ignored and approval is given to these plans they will be referred to the Secretary of State. This will take months to resolve. I urge colleagues on the Committee to reject these plans so that the applicants can rework them into something more acceptable. Southborough – and the Borough – deserves better.
(45’44”) Borough Council Supporter 2
Cllr Peter Oakford, Borough Councillor for St John’s Ward
Cllr Peter Oakford, Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor, speaking in favour.
Firstly, I’d like to thank Mark on the wonderful news on securing the largest NHS investment ever in Southborough. This has the potential to secure vital medical services in the town and for the long term future as part of the Hub development and is a major achievement despite NHS cutbacks.
From the outset, this project has been looking to achieve many things and I fully appreciate that the move forwards has not been able to tick everybody’s boxes, but we have tried to tick as many boxes as possible. In order to achieve this, we have had numerous discussions with local stakeholders, undertook an exhibition and held a full eight week public consultation with many changes to the plans being made based on the results of the feedback.
However, there is still more work to be done in terms of getting things right; such as the cladding which for example could be red brick depending on the budget that we have, finalising capital costs, agreeing the operational plan for the ongoing operational financial model whilst seeking to bring along those left in the community who still need convincing.
It is a complicated project, there are three local councils involved. This really is the last chance we have to get something outstanding for Southborough or else we will see the assets currently being gifted to the community by our partners being sold off and the funds invested in other communities that do support development.
Having had numerous aborted attempts over the years to bring this project to fruition, the three councils collectively have spent significant capital sums to get here. Plus KCC have already purchased the Tesco land and are about to complete on the Lloyd’s land.
If this project does not move forward, I have had confirmation that Kent will move forward to independently dispose of the Ridgewaye units (presumably the existing soccer pavillion?) and will withdraw their offer to re-invest the 50% clawback. Tunbridge Wells will also need to make a decision based on their assets.
This means the project and any future development plans will not happen and we will be left with a cinema type site in the centre of Southborough. I would hope this is something that nobody wishes to see.
Following a successful outcome this evening I will continue to work with the community to deliver this project to give Southborough the facilities it needs, but remembering the development cannot be all things to all people, but a compromise is required on all sides.
The main question tonight is whether this committee wants to guarantee a library service, a community space, hall/theatre, town square, sports facilities for over 500 children and a new NHS surgery and medical centre for Southborough and High Brooms.
This project has been ongoing for 25 years. I have been driving it for over 10 years as requested by the late Colin Bothwell. I for one would like to see the committee unanimously support this project this evening. Thank you.
Borough Councillor objection:
My name is Graham Munn. I actually live in the heart of Southborough. There is a heart in Southborough and am a Town Councillor and Borough Councillor for the ward in which I live. Further to my written submission about this application the Lloyds Bank car park has been unlocked at times over the past two weeks.
Earlier speakers have highlighted the main themes of the objections of my local residents and many others in own town.
They want town centre development but not at any price. The cost of this plan to the Town`s future is too high. They do not believe that they have been listened to due to a flawed consultation process. They believe that the design of the building will be poorer than others of its kind and destroy the centre of Southborough. It will be a blot on the landscape in a key location between a designated conservation area and an historic Royal spa town.
They want to keep their Victoria Hall – a local Heritage Asset that is in good condition but been deliberately left to fall into a state of disrepair. They regard it as far more than a “non-designated heritage asset”. They don’t object to housing but the number of units planned for this site has continued to rise and they don’t want to be overshadowed by 3 and 4 storey apartment blocks.
They have little faith in a highways department that tells us that this massive development will have only a 1.7% effect on traffic. They do not believe that smart traffic lights have improved traffic flow on the A26 when their daily experience says it is as bad as ever. They have yet to see any published evidence to the contrary. They are concerned about the continuing rise in air pollution and the impact on their health. They want to protect their precious open spaces for footballers, dog-walkers, families, joggers, cyclists, children and others who regard the green lung in the centre of their town as essential to their well-being.
Paragraph 74 of the NPPF makes clear, public open space lost to development must be replaced quantitatively and qualitatively “in a suitable location” and those requirements are not met by re-configurations of the remaining land nor by footballers using alternative existing sites. That’s some form of magic. It’s not true. Lastly they want a new scaled back plan based around a refurbished Royal Victoria Hall with less house building and more protection for our green open spaces.
Please reject this application.
(52’00) Borough Council Supporter
Cllr Backhouse from Sherwood Ward.
I am a Borough Councillor for Tunbridge Wells. I am also a Southborough Town Councillor.
Southborough derives its name from being the southern Town of Tonbridge. It nestles between the two sister towns of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. I was born in Farnborough, Kent and all my life I have driven through Southborough …. (unclear).
I mention this as I have noticed a gradual deterioration of the town. It has become very tatty in parts. There are gaps in the London Road. They are like teeth missing from the face of a good friend. …. I visit St Andrew’s Medical Practice regularly….
The theatre, which was glamourous when it was built by David Solomon, was reduced in the 1970s to a building which an ex-councillor described to me once as a poor attempt to copy an aircraft hanger. The town hall is (??) . It is impossible for anyone with mobility issues to enter it. I recently witnessed an elderly visitor cruelly on all fours to come to address our meeting.
Southborough is crying out for investment. (??). Three bodies. Kent County Council, Tubridge Wells Borough Council and Southborough Town Council have worked with professional experts over many months to provide a centre for the 21st century.
A flexible theatre and (??) library new town hall, a sports pavillion and a focus that we can be proud of and generations to come will enjoy these magnificent state of the art facility. Moreover we will have a new medical centre which will have new facilities such as x-ray and will be able to do minor operations.
I have been amazed by the shocking misinformation spread by the detractors…abattoir rather than a new start to the Hub. We’ve been told that “you’re going to build 600 houses”. There’s talk of hockey being played on the hockey fields. The hockey fields haven’t been used since the school closed in the 1970s. They are stopping all the football. (indistinct).
The level of misinformation …Man Booker prize for fiction. I commend all of the people who have toiled to get this project into reality. The attacks on social media and emails are a disgrace. Anyone who supports the Hub is being attacked. I always remember Margaret Thatcher quoting “I do so love it when they attack me personally because it shows I have won the argument”.
I commend this to the committee.
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FROM SECOND SOUND FILE RECORDING 50507:
Chair: I would like to ask whether any of the officers would like to make any points of clarification or correction arising from the presentations made by the speakers.
LM (Lynda Middlemiss): Thank you Chairman. Yes. Just a few points to make.
Firstly in relation to the first objector we heard from, Mr Betts. I think it is fair to point out that the plan that was circulated with the petition, which is the one that you saw on the screen dates back to quite a distant point in time. I’m not sure exactly when. (She shows a picture of the Hub when the image was mainly grey)
But what I can say is that the planning application was made a valid application on the 19th August and at that point consultation and notifications went out and all of the drawings would have been available to be seen on the website at that point. It is very clear if anybody scrutinises those elevations and also the Design and Access statement that the building that you have seen images of today is that which was submitted. What has changed over recent weeks is simply the elevational treatment of the staircase tower in terms of the materials on that and also the original images showed some lampposts that were at very strange angles and they have now been made completely vertical. But they were such changes that – I haven’t actually got the very original ones that were submitted, but the elevations are exactly the same. It’s just the material treatment that’s changed.
I think in relation to Mrs Heilpern’s points – the fourth objector that you heard from. In terms of the impact on any heritage asset such as the designated heritage asset – I should say – such as the listed building, which is the Water Margin restaurant, I can confirm that we have fully considered the impact on the setting of that building. And the conservation area wasn’t mentioned in the report simply because it is quite a distance away from the site much further to the north, so the building won’t be seen in context of that conservation area.
And then a final point. In relation to Councillor Hill’s comments regarding the football pitches and levelling work that’s proposed. There was mention of retaining walls. There is absolutely no intention and no need to provide any retaining walls, simply a question of moving earth from one part of the pitches where they are presently raised to the area where the land slopes away and there will be a question mark over whether or not that does require planning permission, but until we actually have the levels of the changes and a proper ground survey, it may be that those works could be considered to be de minimis (?) and not requiring planning permission, but certainly there is no intention to create any retaining walls on that part of the site.
Chair: We now come to questions from councillors. Councillor Bland.
Cllr Bland: Can I ask Miss Middlemiss to resolve the apparently contradictory remarks from various people about the number of pitches that there are going to be. Would you perhaps be able to put up your two slides – before and after – and give us a commentary on how many before, and how many after, so we know what we are getting or not.
LM: Yes certainly.
This is what we have at the moment. And I just need to find my notes.
The important thing to understand is that there is no – from the proposals – there will be no loss of playing pitch capacity in terms of the number and types of pitches that could be provided on the site. There’s obviously a loss of land that is currently in playing field use. That’s always been envisaged in the Site Allocations Local Plan. But in terms of the impact that that has on local clubs to use the space as playing pitches, the proposals show that there won’t be any reduction in playing pitches. So to explain it on the plans.
At the moment, we have two senior pitches, which are these pitches here. Four Youth pitches which are this one, this one, this one and this one. Two junior pitches which are these two and also the ones on the allocation site here. And 4 mini-pitches which are these here.
It’s a pity they are not side by side to help you see better. But if I just… Its this area here where the plan has changed. So if you see here, there is one very large pitch here. That is moved and relocated up into this part of the site, so on the proposed pitches – (you have two….) these are 4 mini-pitches, 4 junior pitches, 2 more junior pitches and then 3 youth pitches. But hopefully those are and they should be – and I wrote them down earlier – exactly the same provision. So it is simply a question of reusing this part of the site which could be focussed on junior provision at this end and then you would have senior and youth provision up at this part of the site.
Cllr Sloan: We had the comments from Mr Eyre of the Stag Theatre on the proposed theatre. We also had the comments from the Theatres Trust. I just wondered if the planning officer could recap on that. Whether there had been any changes in the approach of the Theatres Trust and whether they have added any comments on it.
Thank you Chair. No, we haven’t had any further comments from the Theatres Trust. The comments that we had – if I can just find them for you briefly. Section 7. Page 52. You will see there that they, whilst the comments are varying concerns about the designs of the proposal, actually the main tenant of their comment I would say is that they said they are – and it does say – para 705 that “the Theatres Trust welcomes and supports the provision of the new theatre”. 706 they start to make some detailed comments relating to the layout of the library, concerns about the dual use of the committee rooms, access door to the kitchen, details about retractable seating should be clarified. The applicant did go back to the Theatres Trust and answered those points. And we haven’t heard anything more from them. What I would say though is that internal arrangements within a building really do go beyond the scope of planning control.
Cllr Hamilton: Thank you Madame Chairman. I think the people who have been working on this project for so long deserve congratulations, so I would like to offer congratulations for their hard work. Traffic movements and air quality is something that is very important. And I would like to ask the KCC officer please to comment on the fact that we heard the medical centre is going to increase, which is great. On page 56, 7128 – that hasn’t been factored in. I appreciate this can be done by condition, but I would like your comments as to how in an already congested area – and I know Southborough has been subject to a lot of development recently and its crowded – can you comment about how feasible you think this is going to be in terms of congestion and given that congested traffic is more polluting? Thank you.
Certainly. Where I said it hasn’t been factored in, I am referring to – it hasn’t been factored into the improvements that were made at the Yew Tree Road/London Road junction. So that’s where I have in paragraph 7.32 outlined my own calculations referring to the submitted transport (??) which shows the number of trips that that medical centre will generate at peak times. And that reveals that there will be a relatively small increase of 1.7 % in the morning peak and 1.3 % in the afternoon peak, which in transport terms is seen as not significant.
Chair: I would like to ask Mark Stephenson and Alan Legg for their comments on the design and the materials proposed.
Alan Legg, Urban design Officer:
I just was looking at the National Policy Framework and was reminded particularly of paragraph 60, which talks about: “Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles.”
Now it goes onto say that “ It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness”.
I will just remind myself what is locally distinctive about this area. You have heard about the Victoria Hall on the western side. I will accept it is quite an eclectic mix anyway – different heights, different forms of buildings, but within a general pattern. But I would just perhaps draw members attention to other developments in and around the area.
You have got the 1960s flats to the north – Hythe Close; the 18th century listed building – the Water Margin; the almshouses; the 1960s or 1970s Costcutter building on the western side. And there have been other infills on the western side. A recent one on the corner of Western Road I am reminded. There is the early 20th Century Bank – the Lloyds Bank – as was. Then St Andrew’s, Park Road and Crendon Park Avenue are a mixture of 1930s and 1950s building. So there’s really I’d say, quite an eclectic mix. So what is really distinctive? Arguably there is no strong key characteristic.
And arguably, I would say that this building is of the 21st century and is part of that evolution – history moving on. The other factor as well – just thinking about materials. The area has a mixture anyway – stucco, there’s timber cladding, (??) 1930s buildings. There is timber cladding to the Lloyds Bank. Pebbledash, tile hung, so again, there is already a real mixture of materials and you can argue that polycarbonate, the copper and the fibre cement cladding are again just adding to that rich mix of architectural styles in the area.
Another point I might just finish on. History moves on, and this is a building that perhaps wants to express its identity and its use and assert itself and be something different, rather than blending in anonymously and being too self-effacing. So from an urban design point of view, I would argue its use is very important but also how it presents itself in the street scene has to set it apart from everywhere else. And as one or two people have said – putting a heart into Southborough.
Chair: Let’s move onto debate.
Question: Sorry, just before we move onto debate can I just ask about the density of the 69 dwellings which I believe is 80 dwellings per hectare. What is the density for other similar sites in the locality?
LM: (one minute delay looking for information)
(16:25) The Exchange building at the junction of St John’s Road and Culverden Park. That has a density of 190 dwellings per hectare. And the Dairy Crest McCarthy and Stone scheme that you considered as a committee quite recently a few months ago – that has a density of 132 dwellings per hectare.
Councillor Cobbold. You said the size of the field is 2 hectares. What is the % of the field – or if you can give it to me in area, which is being built on for the 69 houses or flats?
LM: To just clarify. This is the Site Allocations Local Plan. The football pitches that would be removed are in this area here. The whole site is 2 hectares, so obviously the football pitch area is considerably less than that. But if you work out the total area of the existing pitches, which is the 2 pitches here and all of the green area. The pitches that are lost are just less than 5 % of the total area of pitches.
Councillor Sarah Hamilton. Thank you Madame Chairman. I wanted to ask the heritage officer, in terms of the Royal Victoria Hall because I know it means so much to a lot of people, like myself if I am honest. I don’t like to see heritage assets go. And although I am very, very sad to hear the political, mention of politics I have to say. We went to the Victoria Hall today and it didn’t look too dilapidated, it looked very abandoned, but these historical buildings give an area a sense of place; you could argue it is at the heart of the town as well.
That theatre doesn’t seem to be viable and yet now we are told a new one will be. But I wanted clarity please in terms of Historic England, they mentioned it is a valuable asset but – of course – they don’t go further to say it should be listed. I think given so many people care about this building and I think in this case it is owned by a public body which is representing the people. It is also people from outside the area are going to take an interest because they come in to visit, so I think it would be nice to have a comment from you Mark please, in terms of the value of this building and how and why it can’t be integrated in to something different, which is what a lot of people have raised.
Mark Stephenson – Principal Conservation Officer:
The Royal Victoria Hall has been assessed by Historic England as not being worthy of any listing. They do mention in the final line of their assessment that it has undoubted local merit. That is an unqualified statement, it is not an examinable statement. There is nothing for us to interrogate that statement with, because we don’t know on what basis they are making that assessment.
They do have a heritage asset test which is a document which is incredibly similar to the supplementary planning document which this authority has adopted which has gone through the full planning process for adoption. That is the document that as an authority we should be using to determine whether the building is a non-designated heritage asset or a local heritage asset, which is essentially the same thing.
We have gone through that process and we have examined it against the criteria which are in that specification and it has struggled to meet those criteria. It has had a lot of change to it, but it still maintains the essence of what was originally built.
In terms of the criteria, two criteria to start off with, its condition and how it has been altered over a period of time. It has been substantially altered, it has had a side extension where the bar is, there is the loss of many of the original windows in the central atrium, it has had a side extension to the rear and it’s lost much of the character to the front of the building in terms of the (?? inaudible) in front of it and streetscene it had originally and the ironwork and the features on the front. So it has been significantly damaged in terms of change.
However there are lots of little bits of interest within the building that have not changed from the original scheme. So, on balance, we made the assessment that while we could have refused it at that stage as a local heritage asset or a non-designated heritage asset, we felt it was such a borderline case that we thought we should go through the full assessment.
We have been through that full assessment, which comes in four distinct areas and each area has sets of criteria within that. We assessed against all of those, given the information that we have been provided by 15 nomination forms and attached information which was sent in to us.
We also did some of our own research to back that up as well. On making that assessment it fails on many many categories to reach the standard we would hope for for designated buildings and a non-designated heritage asset. The areas where it does best tend to be its connection to David Salomons, its connection with historic events, although again they are one-off historic events, there is nothing tangible that really ties this building to a series of consistent historical events and its value as a cultural heritage asset.
That was the one that it fared strongest on, but is also the hardest to actually assess. In terms of cultural heritage assets, a lot of the feeling that goes with that is what you mentioned, which is the community feeling towards it. The problem with this one is the building is not particularly exceptional as a building in its own right. It is a simple design, it is a functional design and it does what it was intended to do. There are interesting bits about it, but nothing that I would consider to make it a significant heritage asset.
It does have a very high level of community value, dis-jointing community value from cultural value can be very, very difficult. It was quite clearly very, very valued as a venue. It is also valued by some – as came through on the nomination forms – as a building of age.
Much more of the information that was given to us from the local community on the nomination forms was centred around the fact that generations of people have seen their families go to see performances. Their children, their grandchildren all have gone to see performances and star in performances. That is community value. That is not heritage value.
And there is a very fine line to draw between those two particular functions because community value does contribute to cultural value. That is the one it is the strongest on, and that is one of the main reasons why we decided it should be a non-designated heritage asset.
But it is not a strong contender. So, in essence, it is a nice building. It has been substantially damaged. It has some value, but that value is limited. We have as an authority discussed that level of value and planners have done that balancing act they are required to do between the benefits this scheme can bring and the harm caused by the loss of the heritage asset and it this is why this recommendation has been put forward.
Cllr Joy Podbury: I have to confess I do have a soft spot for the existing Hall and I too have a lot of memories from it. The report, refers to a ‘sense of place’, that is what we think this building should have. I think the existing building does have that, it has a strong identity and character and is deeply felt by local residents and by many of the visitors too. It’s obvious by the comments that have been made today that the new building doesn’t belong to residents of Southborough or people outside who use it. I have concerns about the appearance of the new building. It’s completely different and the material being used is really alien. It doesn’t fit in with Southborough as I can see it. I wonder if brick had ever been considered as a material for the build?
Lynda Middlemiss from TWBC: There are a number of ways to treat the external appearance of a building. Brick – as far as I am aware -has not been considered in any detail, but then I am not sure that I would know all of what went on before the planning application was submitted in detail. It may have been considered, it may have been rejected for cost reasons. I know the economics of the building are obviously a big factor because creating a community building of this size obviously is going to be a very expensive building to provide. I don’t know if Mr Legg may have any comments to make on the appropriateness of brick.
Alan Legg – Urban Designer:
One of the thoughts I have been thinking about, is the two elements, one of the elements – the theatre element is basically a box. So the idea of just cladding that in brick would be almost too heavy and costly as well. Again, it is a windowless space, so how you clad something that doesn’t have to have windows by the very nature of the building, it has to be essentially in the dark most of the time, so this cladding would give some animation to that. And – as Ms Middlemiss said – the colour of the cladding could be conditioned and dealt with. The poly-carbonate can be tinted and coloured by graphics (??) to give it some detail.
Also the surgery is a quite introvert building. I think the very nature of the brief by the doctors was that they should have privacy, patients don’t want windows onto public areas, so it is a very inward looking building. And for security as well. So again that is a building again that would not be appropriate to have normal windows that you would see elsewhere in the town.
So, in a general sense, I think the approach adopted on the cladding is an appropriate one in that sense. In planning itself it has been used primarily on sports buildings. It is used a lot in France oddly enough.
One of the iconic buildings – sorry I shouldn’t use that word iconic – a building done recently in Deptford, the Conservatoire for Dance and Music [Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music] has won a lot of attention and awards, the architects for that Herzog and de Meuron did Tate Modern and the recent extension to Tate Modern. So it is interesting that internationally renown firm of architects have used a very similar approach on a building they did in Deptford, so a firm like that that has adopted that approach shouts volumes perhaps.
Chair – Cllr Julia Soyke: Anybody, we can have questions as well as discussion so I encourage you to continue the discussion.
Cllr Elizabeth Thomas: Thank you Chairman. Nobody is going to win on this one. It is a question of: we would like to make the right decision objectively. The facts are quiet clear, that the building that is there at the moment is loved. You can’t take that away. However, are you willing to sacrifice that to have a brand new building and all the others reinvigorated, regeneration, so that your people in the next generation are able to enjoy a central point that is attractive that will provide medical care. All the other things that go with that. I think that is the burning question as far as I’m concerned. It isn’t designated heritage; you have gone I think to the nth degree to try and prove it is – and come back and realised that it isn’t. And there is nothing we can do about that. But it does change our position from that point of view. I would like to vote to approve this application in line with the recommendation by the officers.
Chair – Cllr Julia Soyke: So you are making a formal proposals approve?
Cllr Elizabeth Thomas: Correct.
Cllr Lawrence Heasman: I have been very interested in all the comments that have come forward tonight both from the objectors and from the supporters and what quite clearly comes through is the belief that the Royal Victoria Hall is a heritage type style asset which should be retained or redesigned in some way or other. I have to say, I have lived in Tunbridge Wells all my life and have been to the Royal Victoria Hall several times. There have been some historical links, including – for some who are elderly like me – a visit by Enoch Powell, which there was a riot outside, that itself is an interesting historical backdrop.
But I am interested also that one of the speakers said a ‘pretty building it is not’. I would 100 % agree with that comment. It is not a pretty building. It is not beautiful. I believe passionately that when there are buildings that are beautiful and are historical, they should be maintained and they should be kept.
I cannot support the people who believe this is a building that is beautiful or in anyway that should be kept because it was built as a functional building by Salomons and I am sorry but we have moved on a century and a half virtually. Yes it is loved by some, I accept that, there will be people who love it, but quite honestly it’s been used very functionally and we have to look to the future for a functional complex and it does bring, in my view, it does bring a heart back in to Southborough.
Southborough has missed that for a very long period of time and I would passionately say this is a time for people to think a little bit outside the box of always wanting to protect what is already there. I cannot believe that – having driven through Southborough for fifty years plus – it is not in any way something I would like to think is being kept.
The new proposal, I actually think it looks quite good personally. Now I accept that is a personal thing and it isn’t part of planning anyway but so I would second the motion to support this proposal.
Chair – Cllr Julia Soyke: Thank you very much Cllr Heasman. Cllr Bland, then Sloane.
Cllr Godfrey Bland: I can quite understand the affection – I think is the word – that particularly those who are supporting the retention of the Theatre – feel for it. It is familiar, it’s been there all their lives. It’s quite pretty, in a sort of restrained way. But the time I think has come – as my colleagues have said – to move on. There is so much extra the community will gain, the functional things of a library, decent council offices, a surgery and a new all singing, all dancing theatre, paid for by the 69 houses. So much to be gained from that, that I think we have to say that our affection has to be displaced by moving forward and giving this plan our approval.
Cllr Don Sloane: I would like to support the comments by Cllr Mrs Thomas and Heaseman and Bland. We have the possibility now for Southborough, of a theatre which is flexible and supported, support by the theatre from Sevenoaks. We also need to bear in mind the various local societies that support it. The project has the support of the Southborough Society – people who have a close interest (?? Inaudible) majority – and the Ridgewaye Football Club and also the West Kent Clinical Commissioning group is supporting this. I think this an opportunity that needs to be taken now. There are various possibilities for funding and there is a serious risk of losing this funding if it is put on hold or declined. Thank you.
Cllr Sarah Hamilton: I don’t actually advocate living in the past. But I also don’t advocate that we destroy the past and also people’s feelings. I am all for moving forward, very exciting to move forward, and Southborough needs the best possible facilities it can get. I think we probably know something – there is something wrong if so many people are still very upset. There is something wrong with the consultation process and what people understand and that is the point I would like to make.
That is why I asked Mark Stephenson who very kindly gave us a very detailed breakdown. I think it is a very close call, but I also respect the tremendous work to get three organisations to pull together and pull this off. It is with great, great regret because I feel that perhaps something could have been done to still reflect the Victoria Hall.
I think we need to take great care particularly in the South East that we don’t railroad our history and the images of our past and because it’s terribly, terribly important and in the future people might not understand it in a way, but those images contain our story. If you look at anything online or anything on television these days, people are very, very keen on heritage…ancestry.com or whatever you like and other examples. So please, it is with a heavy heart that I would vote for destroying the Royal Victoria Hall, but I recognise this application can’t stop it anyway, but I would like to make these points.
Cllr Reilly: I’d like to highlight what my fellow Councillors have mentioned already about supporting the application, can I mention as well which has been overlooked that it brings some opportunities for employment to the area, in a borough where employment opportunties haven’t been met for the last twenty years and that’s important.
Cllr Carol Mackonochie: I would just like to say that I am very sad that they are losing 5% of the green area, but they will have the same amount of pitches and it does appear they are going to have a new pavilion; which would meet the FA…I hope meet the FA rules, so that hopefully will make them a bit happier.
Chair – Cllr Julia Soyke: Thank you very much. If there are no further comments I would like to go to the vote. It has been proposed by Cllr Thomas and seconded by Cllr Heasman to approve in line with the officer’s recommendation. If you would like to vote now, who is in favour?
Cheryl Clark: That is unanimous Chairman. No, sorry, Cllr Podbury are you the only one not putting your hand up. Is that against or abstention.
Cllr Joy Podbury: Abstain.
Chair – Cllr Julia Soyke: Thank you. That application has now been approved.