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Tonbridge and Malling councillors recommend demolishing the Angel Centre and building new multi-million pound site

A “not fit for purpose” leisure complex is set to be demolished with a new multi-million pound one to be built elsewhere.

Earlier this year, a consultation was launched on the future of the Angel Centre in Tonbridge which proposed two choices to either knock it down or give it a major refurbishment.

The Angel Centre in Tonbridge. Photo: Google
The Angel Centre in Tonbridge. Photo: Google

It was estimated that creating a new building could cost anywhere between £16.5 million and £19.8m, while giving the current site a revamp would cost in the range of £8.6m to £14.6m.

The complex currently operates at a loss, which is forecast to be £265,000 for the current financial year.

The decision was called in and councillors have decided the site in Angel Lane, which was built in 1981, wasn’t up to standard and costs would be too high to fix it.

A report from the meeting said: “Members recognised that, due to the age, design and changing nature of leisure provision, the Angel Centre was no longer fit for purpose without significant investment in both plant and equipment.

“In addition, substantial investment would be required to reduce the carbon footprint of the building to achieve the council’s carbon neutral aspirations for its leisure facilities.”

The Angel Centre was built in 1981 and would be too costly to repair. Picture: Google
The Angel Centre was built in 1981 and would be too costly to repair. Picture: Google

As a result, it was proposed the Angel Centre be demolished and replacement leisure facilities be provided.

It was also decided all options be kept on the table for the future location of the replacement leisure facilities within the town.

The decision to rebuild the centre elsewhere sparked fear among the Tonbridge Model Engineering Society (TMES) who made an online petition to urge the local authority not to choose their bit of land at The Slade for the development.

More than 2,500 people have signed it so far. You can do so here.

A statement from organiser Colin Harwood said: “For more than 70 years, our beloved miniature railway site has been a cherished part of Tonbridge's community fabric.

The Tonbridge Model Engineering Society fear their site will be picked for a new development
The Tonbridge Model Engineering Society fear their site will be picked for a new development

“Funded by the lottery, we have provided countless train rides and fostered a love for model railways and engineering among generations. Now we understand that our site is under threat as it is being considered as the preferred location for a new leisure centre.

“If this were to happen, it would erase decades of history and community engagement. The miniature railway site has not only been an educational resource but also a place where people come together to share their passion for trains and engineering.

“We understand the need for new facilities in our town. However, we feel that there must be other potential sites that can accommodate the proposed new leisure centre without disrupting an established community hub.

“We urge you all - residents of Tonbridge - to stand with us in this fight. Let's remind the council about the importance of preserving local heritage and encourage them to consider alternative locations for their proposed leisure centre development project.”

Council leader Matt Boughton (Con) hit back at the society and called the petition “unnecessary”.

He said: “I'm a bit disappointed to see the petition because we all love the miniature railway, it is a great feature of the town. They've done a lot for the wider borough too including running for the Mayor and his charity, Arthur's Quest, earlier this year.

“Other organisations have suggested concepts for alternative uses of the land but Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council are the landowner and we are very aware of the sensitivities of where future leisure facilities are located.

“The Angel Centre isn't up to modern standards and on Tuesday the Cabinet agreed that the current building should be demolished after we identify another location for leisure facilities. We pledged carbon-neutral leisure centres and this can only be provided by a new, state-of-the-art facility.”

Council leader Matt Boughton says a petition to save the miniature railway site is “unnecessary”
Council leader Matt Boughton says a petition to save the miniature railway site is “unnecessary”

Cllr Boughton said the council is working with an outside company to review the town’s assets and how they can be used in a more efficient way to bring money in and keep tax bills down.

He added: “As there are no proposals by the council to develop the miniature railway site, we haven't spoken about any redevelopment with the Model Engineering Society. We simply didn't need to speak about something that neither party wishes.

So while lots of different concepts have been suggested to the council by many people for the future of leisure facilities in Tonbridge, the council has no proposals and has made no decisions which would see the development of a leisure centre on the site of the miniature railway.

“I can't envisage a situation where the council would decide to use the miniature railway site for leisure facilities. Given what the miniature railway provides for the town and other issues with the site, I think we can all agree that there are other sites well suited for the purpose of providing leisure facilities instead.

“To that extent the petition is, in my opinion, unnecessary. I have offered to meet with the Model Engineering Society to discuss their concerns and hope they will take me up on this offer.”

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