Economy & Town Centre

ECONOMY

 

We want the private sector to thrive. We particularly want small and locally owned businesses to thrive. Money raised in those businesses is most likely to stay in Tunbridge Wells and circulate in our community. We are deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the self-employed and the three million people excluded from state aid over this difficult period.

COVID-19 has hammered all levels of government. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is no exception. It is not possible yet to say how bad the council’s finances will be in 2021. Tunbridge Wells is losing roughly a million pounds a month at present. There may be more government money given to local authorities (though Tunbridge Wells has not done especially well out of the previous payments), but there may be no further payments. One of the first actions of any new council will be to approve a new budget.

There will be pressure to cut spending, which we will resist strongly. Council services are already pared back to a minimum. There is not the scope for major savings in delivered services. 

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has a reasonably large property portfolio. Whilst 2021 is unlikely to be a good year to sell property it is quite likely we will need to realise capital from these assets to see us through the lean period to follow the COVID-19 crisis. In this respect we are in a stronger place than many councils who don’t have comparable portfolios. Several will go bankrupt. In addition, the property portfolio contains several important heritage buildings which, if retained, will be properly repaired and maintained. We will work to find new uses for surplus space in council-owned buildings that will benefit both the economy and the community. 

Grants and allowances for small businesses. 

One of the things which has become clear during the pandemic is that local businesses have been poorly informed about available grants and allowances. Other parts of Kent have more effective means of communication. We will seek to establish a trusted central information hub for all businesses in the borough.

 


 

TOWN CENTRE

 

 

Our town centre is in trouble. It has faced the same challenges as high streets across the country, but has also had to fair with neglect from TWBC. We want to invigorate the town centre whilst recognising it will not return to exactly what it once was.

The old cinema site. 

The Lib Dems have worked hard in opposition to get something done with this blight on the town. We are now in the position that the site is up for sale again. There are an abundance of good ideas, but some critical information is missing. Can it be built on or not? After twenty years of what ought to be a prime development site not being developed the Conservatives’ blind faith that the market will come to our rescue and deliver a great development looks worse than naïve. It looks positively delusional. And yet it keeps changing hands. There is a need to fix this problem and it is not good enough to sit on our hands and hope that the market sorts it out. We need to understand the problem fully. If the site is viable then it’s probably going to remain too expensive for us to buy. If it is not then it’s virtually worthless and we should consider buying or leasing it and doing a minimal amount of work to open the space up, beautify it and provide for public use. Anything between those two extremes will be a much more difficult decision. We will collate all existing surveys and information and if necessary commission fresh advice from structural engineers and others in order to set the conditions for us making an informed decision on the site’s future.

Markets. 

Properly established, well run markets have been proven to encourage people into town centres to shop and socialise. Calverley Precinct is a natural home for a market and the local shops now see this as an asset for supporting footfall. A Royal Ascent market with a minimum if 20 stalls is essential as this requires a market manager to maintain quality and provides sufficient revenue from pitch fees to advertise the market effectively.

Clean-up of Calverley Precinct. At the same time the area should be tidied up to allow the space to safely maintain market and make for a pleasurable shopping experience. We will seek to site additional bicycle stands at either end of the precinct to encourage active travel.

The Civic Complex.   

The Civic Centre has been badly maintained by the Conservatives and is rapidly falling into disrepair. With Covid19 we have already seen many firms moving employees to home working with many unlikely to return to an office environment once the Pandemic finishes. We will explore repurposing a section of the town hall into a collaborative working environment where you are able to turn up for the day, have a quiet space and access to office services. In addition to this, we would wish to investigate an option for converting another section of the Civic Centre into an apprenticeship training college ideally with a focus on technical and IT skills development.

Tourism. 

Tunbridge Wells has the potential to draw in day-trippers from London who want to get out of the city; visitors from the Continental Europe; and domestic holidaymakers. We need to make the town centre welcoming to those people, with tourist information boards, a tourist information centre where tourists are most likely to visit; and potentially a manned booth at the railway station on weekends. We can also look to employ part-time information guides in the summer months and work with the train companies to promote travel to our town. We can work with heritage sites within the borough to look at organised tours from the town centre. The opening of the Amelia Scott cultural hub will be a game-changer and it is imperative that we maximise the opportunities this presents. We should also consider buying or leasing heritage sites in the town centre for public benefit. The Visit Tunbridge Wells website needs a complete refresh/redesign and social media training for those running the accounts could be useful. 

The Mount Pleasant “Improvements”

We are sympathetic to the aims of the project to reduce traffic in front of the War Memorial. The execution has been sub-standard. We will hold KCC to account to put right the signage and we will progress existing plans to close the Eastern ends of York and Dudley Roads to prevent rat-running. We will lobby Kent County Council to replace the pedestrian island in Monson Road.

Street scene. 

A thriving, happy town or village needs an attractive, clean street scene We need to install recycling bins in our town centres and tackle the litter problem by anti-litter campaigns, increased enforcement of existing rules, the identification of owners of private land which are feeding the existing litter problems and force them to take action (or pay the council to deal with it if they are unable or unwilling). In residential streets close to our town centre, we will investigate more creative solutions to waste, including underground rubbish storage and Smart Bins. We must keep out pavements in good repair We must ensure the War Memorial is kept clean and tidy. We would plant more trees to soften our built-up town centres, cool our air, reduce impact of vehicle emissions and increase biodiversity. We would provide individual benches and sociable groups of benches to help combat isolation. Some will be in Sun and some will be in shade. We would love to see play equipment in pedestrianised areas to encourage people to stop, chat, have a coffee and watch their children play.

 

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