Twenty years after the ABC closed (and five owners later), the news that the old cinema site is up for sale yet again is frustrating and depressingly familiar. This grot spot saga blights our town and we cannot go on waiting on developers who do not have the best interests of Tunbridge Wells residents at heart.
We do not know why the latest owners have pulled out, but it’s very possible that the Covid pandemic has rendered their Belvedere scheme, consisting primarily of retirement apartments, unviable. From this situation springs an opportunity. It’s time for the council to step up. A change of tack and some creative thinking is required to ensure that this site is turned into something that will benefit our community.
We are asking the council to speedily examine all options for acquiring the site on a fair-value basis for taxpayers, then to consult with residents to find out what they would like to see developed there – some genuinely collaborative planning to enhance the town. It could be a park, a market, affordable housing - there are numerous possibilities and if we crowd source those ideas we’ll get some really good ideas we hadn’t considered.
Crossing our fingers and hoping for the best has comprehensively failed. It’s time for some fresh thinking at the council, otherwise it’s likely that we will be living with this grot spot for another 20 years.
James Rands and Justine Rutland, Liberal Democrat Councillors for Culverden Ward