Here are extracts from my presentation to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council planning committee last year. As I plan to stand in Park ward for the borough elections in May, my views may be pertinent to local residents.
In Tunbridge Wells, we have a brilliant civic site - with the library, museum, adult education centre and town hall grouped together - along with a theatre which is also used as a gathering place for large meetings. The Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is now proposing to divide this civic space into two spaces - one to include the library, museum and adult education centre and another for the town hall, theatre and office spaces. Public facing services will be accessed via the new cultural hub and the business of the council will be conducted down the street behind closed doors. The council plans to close the Gateway. The Liberal Democrat motion for a public referendum on the proposed civic development was denied.
Apart from the fact that there are some serious questions about the suitability of the proposed new building, the town hall does not need to be placed on expensive property in the centre of town as there are no plans for public facing services. It could be relocated to Pembury, Hawkhurst or Paddock Wood. Further, the business proposal put forward seems overly optimistic considering that Tunbridge Wells is an hour away from the west end and some of the best theatre in the world.
Once again, the council has failed to properly maintain and update a building, causing it to fall into disrepair to build a case for replacing it. Personally, I do not like the architecture of the current civic development and would prefer the Decimus Burton houses that stood there before the town hall, but demolishing a building on the basis of its design and the fact that it hasn't been properly maintained does not seem to be in the public interest.
I understand that the current theatre is not fit for purpose but suggest that we do not need a 1200 static seat theatre in Tunbridge Wells but should, instead, be looking at a much more flexible space since we are unlikely to attract first run shows.
Finally, we should consider the fact that this will put a prominent building on a well-loved park in a conservation area. Despite the fact that it has been designed in two blocks, it still creates a large mass where there was relatively open space. For the residents, it may well seem as though they will have a Mela every night of the week with a much larger volume of night time traffic, particularly up Mount Pleasant and Grove Hill Road.