It is certainly a shock that after just 11 years that the renewed TN2 centre may be shut to the public for good. This comes on top of the proposed drastic reduction in library opening hours at Sherwood from the current 28 hours per week to 15. There are also negative implications for library services at Showfields, Paddock Wood, Rusthall and Pembury, as well as other branches across the borough.
We lose our local library services at our peril, as they are vital for continuing education and literacy for all age groups, as well as their social aspect in providing a sense of community and combatting loneliness. I write as a journalist and published author, who has lived on Sherwood now for over 30 years, and who valued local library services growing up as a teenager on a council estate in Tonbridge.
Many families can no longer afford books for their children, while we have seen schools asking parents to provide textbooks in a time of education funding cuts. Increasing numbers of people also no longer buy newspapers. And Sherwood is also an area like Showfields where there is a higher than average number dependent on Universal Credit for their daily needs.
Indeed, I find the current crisis as outlined in the Courier with regard to TN2 as something of a mystery. Contrary to what is stated, there are quite a few regular and ongoing bookings at the centre. Also, there are hundreds of new houses and flats both in the surrounding area and on the nearby Knights Wood development. I wonder if sufficient outreach is happening to local people who have recently moved in and might as yet be unaware of the services available and how to use or book them, or whether there is another agenda to gradually run it down and then simply sell off the site altogether for more housing?
It will be at least two years or more before the new arts and cultural centre opens its doors in the Town Centre. So in the meantime it is vital that the housing estates and villages keep their local library services open and that these are all not eventually centralised to somewhere it may be difficult for many to reach except by an long, expensive bus journey.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) has applied for £5 million in government funding towards the total cost of over £90 million for the proposed Calverley Square development. However, a critical technical assessment of the project bid conducted by Steer consultancy, on behalf of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), concludes that the scheme represents poor value for public money.
The Steer report rejects the current Calverley plan as they don’t think the evaluation process submitted by TWBC is good enough, and also because of potential delivery risks in the completion timeline. It particularly highlights the lack of evidence to support claims that the development would derive additional income from expenditure on food and drink, and also create a significant increase in local jobs.
In response to this damning verdict, Lib Dem Cllr Pete Lidstone commented: “If the business case doesn’t stack up, the Tories justification for wrecking Calverley Park disappears altogether. It’s bad for business, bad for residents, and bad for the environment, so why are they ploughing on regardless? Sounds just like Brexit! You need sensible councillors, who understand business, have independent judgment, and who will stand up for the people of Tunbridge Wells. That’s the Lib Dems.”
The new Chair of the Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats for 2019 is Andrew Hickey with Gillian Douglass as Vice Chair. Gillian has worked as local party Chair for the past three years.
Andrew said: “We start the year in great shape as the official opposition in Tunbridge Wells, with four Liberal Democrat members of the borough council, all of whom are active and vocal on behalf of their constituents. They are David Neve (St. James’), Ben Chapelard (St. James’), Peter Lidstone (St. John’s) and Mark Ellis (St. John’s).
There are 48 seats on the Borough Council so we will work to take more control of the council this May in order to help local constituents on a range of topics from infrastructure like our roads and pavements, developments like the planned civic centre, the Southborough Hub, social matters like affordable housing and homelessness, economic matters like our town centre retail space, and environmental matters such as air quality and congestion. We are active and passionate about our town and borough and we also think that the current Conservative majority needs to be overturned in order to take the town forward.
The Lib Dems will also continue to campaign hard on national issues, particularly for a People’s Vote on Brexit. Tunbridge Wells was a Remain constituency in the 2016 referendum and we will be fighting to defend the will of the majority of local electors, and many others who have since changed their minds on leaving the EU over the past two and a half years as the political and economic damage mounts. We are equally prepared for a snap General Election if one is called, with Cllr Ben Chapelard, our General Election Candidate already in place, up and ready for the fight to win this seat from the Tory MP Greg Cla