Tunbridge Wells campaigners bring in law firm to fight £72m plans for civic offices and theatre in Calverley Grounds
PUBLISHED: 11:46 24 October 2017
If planning permission is granted, council chiefs hope construction could begin in September 2019, and be completed by April 2022
Tunbridge Wells-based campaigners have hired a top London law firm in their bid to stop £72m plans to build new civic offices and a theatre in Calverley Grounds.
TW Alliance, a new umbrella group of objectors that includes town planners, architects, event producers and theatre designers, has launched to step up opposition to the plans which they say will lead to borough-wide cuts in services.
They also claim the proposals could have a potentially devastating effect on Hoopers department store - one of the town’s biggest employers.
The borough council, however, claim these comments are “inaccurate” and is looking to progress with the proposals, which includes some 20,000 square feet of office space.
Since 2010, the council has seen a reduction in its workforce of 25 per cent with only 280 employees now based at the town hall.
The move to a new civic centre would see the council slash its office space from its current 40,460ft2 (3,720m2) at the town hall – a reduction of 70 per cent.
If planning permission is granted, council chiefs hope construction will begin in September 2019, and be completed by April 2022.
However, residents have contributed thousands of pounds already as part of a crowdfunding initiative, which protests say demonstrates the strength of feeling against the development.
A TW Alliance spokesman said: “We have instructed leading London chambers Landmark to look at whether the council has acted lawfully in spending more than £4m of public money on plans for a theatre development without first ensuring that there was sufficient access for HGVs and coaches.
“Furthermore the council has some explaining to do regarding its decision to spend £4m of borough residents’ money before discovering that even if HGV access can be made to work, it would entail a risky, expensive and time consuming contested compulsory purchase.
“We’re not anti-progress, we just want the council to be accountable, transparent, competent and honest.
“TWBC chief executive William Benson admitted in a meeting with the Labour Party this month that so far there has been no formal business plan produced for the proposed civic development or the £72m he plans to borrow.
“The repayment of the loan and subsidies will result in an annual deficit of more than £2m which will be funded in the main by cuts to public services.”
“We will continue to lobby councillors, council officers and our MP Greg Clark to think and act smarter to make the borough a better place to live, work and visit.
“Tunbridge Wells Borough Council needs to demonstrate some joined-up thinking in the decisions they make for the future of the borough.”
A spokesperson for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said in response: “This group of people have been against the civic development project from the start, as of course they are entitled to be.
“Comments they make about the project are inaccurate and we hope that the release of the RIBA Stage 3 reports, due shortly, will make this clear.”