The Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has released a 300 page report on the plans for a new theatre and civic offices on the fringe of Calverley Grounds ahead of the vote at Full Council on 6th December on whether to proceed. If a majority of Councillors vote for the scheme to continue, it will proceed to planning stage, with plans to be submitted early in the new year. Full Council is a public meeting, so please attend if you are interested in the future of our town.
The report contained some significant information that Councillors have been asking for, such as the business plan for the theatre, and intended uses for the current Civic Complex. It also contained details of the savings the Council would need to make in order to repay the £77m loan which would be taken out. These include: Charging £30 for garden waste collection, £280k reduced funding to community groups and a saving from not replacing a Director position. Additional savings will need to be made for the Council to balance the books (2018/19 financial year currently has a £600k shortfall).
Against a backdrop of massive cuts from Conservative central Government, Councils are being forced to run themselves as businesses, trying to use commercial schemes to balance the books. My question is whether or not the real owners of the ‘business’ - i.e. the people of Tunbridge Wells, the ratepayers - agree with our plans.
Unfortunately, it seems that, with our call for a referendum being rejected by the Conservative led council, we may never know.
Many residents have been in touch with us to register their support for a new theatre in the town to draw in local crowds and rival the West End. An equal number have raised concerns about the scale of borrowing involved, the impact on Calverley Grounds and the future intentions for the current Civic complex. I for one will be disappointed if those grand buildings are turned into commuter flats.
Ultimately this comes down to engagement with residents. There is a feeling that many have been told what the Council is planning to do, and asked fotheir views, rather than them being involved in the decision-making process.