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Tunbridge Wells theatre plan for Calverley Grounds discussed at meeting

By Claire McWethy

Dozens of people were turned away from a council meeting about a controversial new theatre in Tunbridge Wells because the chamber was full.

As many as 50 people were reportedly left in the rain as a discussion over the £72m redevelopment plans  - for Assembly Hall Theatre and Calverley Grounds - went on inside the Town Hall last night.

The proposals to build a new civic centre, theatre and office space, have sparked a massive backlash and nearly 2,000 people have signed a petition to save the park from development.

Many people had to wait outside the Town Hall because it was full

Many people had to wait outside the Town Hall because it was full

They say it will leave the existing civic complex empty and spoil the public space.

Nicholas Pope, chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds said there had been no consultation on the location of the new theatre, adding: "The scale of the buildings, the loss of park land, the loss of the view. These have always been concerns. When the land take increased to 993sqm the concerns increased. 

"Build on 993sqm of Grade II listed park? I don't think so."

Cllr Ben Chapelard also spoke out against the plan, saying the location was unsuitable and that he didn't want his children to grow up next to a construction site.

But leader of the council, cllr David Jukes, said that as well as raising opposition, the plans had garnered a lot of support from people who wanted action. He added: "If we don't do something with this town it will wither and die."

However, the council was handed something of an ultimatum by department store Hoopers, who have said they could not continue to operate if they were made to share their car park and service road with the theatre - something the proposals depend on.

An artist's impression of the proposed civic centre from Calverley Grounds

An artist's impression of the proposed civic centre from Calverley Grounds

The following day Tunbridge Wells Borough Council tweeted to apologise to those unable to get into the council chamber, pointing them towards an audio recording of the meeting uploaded onto their website.

The proposed development is on the site of the current car parks at Great Hall and Mount Pleasant Avenue, and on the edge of Calverley Grounds, opposite the railway station.

The plans include the development of a 1,200-seater theatre - replacing the existing Assembly Hall Theatre - alongside commercial office space and car parking.

The current town hall would also be replaced with new council offices, a civic suite and council chamber. 

A website - www.TWciviccentre.co.uk - presents the borough council’s case for investing £72m in the development that would have a completion date of April 2022.

The idea remains at the consultation stage.

If the final designs and proposals are signed off by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council a planning application will be submitted, and go out to further public consultation in late 2017.

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