Residents of Tunbridge Wells, dismayed to hear that the ‘grot spot,’ aka the old Cinema Site is back on the market, should call on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to change tack. Twenty years this fiasco has been ongoing, with no sign of this ever ending as developer after developer submit their plans only to pull out. It has become synonymous with Tory leadership in Tunbridge Wells: twenty years of lack of investment, pride, decline, and decay. ‘A developer’s graveyard,’ the chief executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council called it. However, one person’s disappointment is another person’s opportunity - an opportunity to change the narrative.
What has been tried in the past hasn’t worked. Do we really want another twenty years of the same? It’s time for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to say enough is enough and think radically. TWBC must take control of the site. The residents surely want this. We love our town and want to see it truly flourish. Perhaps the site can be leased, but perhaps TWBC will need to buy it, but not for £17 million. Amidst a pandemic, recession and in a situation when high streets have been in decline nationally for years, that’s a rather optimistic price tag.
My own ideas include a building with a galleria/atrium courtyard that could house an indoor market: a mix of Covent Garden/ Borough/ Greenwich markets, but with a touch of Hay’s Galleria. It could have a bijou cinema, art gallery and creative space; a water feature to hint at our heritage; restaurants; retail start-ups and street entertainment of the kind you see on London’s South Bank. It could be a venue for food and drink festivals, and a winter Christmas market with a tree and lights turned on by the pantomime stars from the Assembly Hall Theatre. Combined with the pantomime and the ice rink in Calverley Grounds, it would establish Tunbridge Wells as a winter festival destination. It would link up with what we already have, especially if we brought back the Christmas Express train, joining the top and bottom of town, increasing footfall and driving the economic development and regeneration of our town.
But this is only one idea and residents have shared many more on social media over the past few days. TWBC needs to know what the residents think. What would we like to see created here? This is the opportunity to try something different. We the community can unite in a common aim, to involve ourselves. TWBC need to listen to our voices, our ideas. Consult and collaboratively plan together and work towards rejuvenating this town. So, let us take this opportunity, for it may never come again. Let’s put the Royal back into Tunbridge Wells and give the community something to be proud of.