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Calverly Square £108m development in Tunbridge Wells 'toast'

ByCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter

The controversial Calverley Square development has been scrapped after a dramatic public meeting last night.

A total of 43 councillors were present during Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's extraordinary full council meeting and more than half voted against a decision to press ahead with the £108m scheme.

KMTV reports on last night's decision

More than 40 residents in the public gallery of Tunbridge Wells' Town Hall applauded the outcome as plans to create a new 1,200 seater theatre, public realm space, office block and underground car park were left in tatters.

Cllr Sean Holden (Con) celebrated the victory after the meeting and said: "It's the right result. It was a potential vampire on the neck of the finances of Tunbridge Wells for decades to come."

Council leader Alan McDermott (Con) said Calverley Square was effectively "toast" following the three-hour long heated meeting, adding: "It could resurrect itself but the costs would be so horrendous that it would be very difficult."

More than 100 protesters descended on the Monson Road Hall prior to the meeting, holding placards with message such as "50 years of debt for Tunbridge Wells young people" and "Save Calverley Grounds. No £108m debt."

There were just four supporters for the Calverley scheme in the public gallery, which included Tunbridge Wells restaurant owner Sedat Zorba. The 41-year-old said: "If our borough takes this money and uses it for the new theatre and town hall, the rents from the offices will pay itself this loan."

Five supporters stand outside Tunbridge Wells’ Town Hall
Five supporters stand outside Tunbridge Wells’ Town Hall

A short prayer delayed the start of the meeting as the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Cllr James Scholes (Con), warned members of the public to behave themselves following "disruptive" conduct in previous meetings.

The cabinet member for property and major projects, Cllr David Scott (Con), opened the discussion of the heated debate as he described Calverley as "one of the best things that can possibly happen" in Tunbridge Wells.

He said the project would generate an additional £1.76bn for the town's economy over the next 50 years.

Kent county council’s deputy leader Peter Oakford (Con), who represents Tunbridge Wells North, added: “KCC fully supports this programme and if not passed, it will negatively impact Tunbridge Wells for many years to come.”

However, opponents in the meeting said it was "demonstrably unpopular" with the residents.

Opposition leader, Cllr Ben Chapelard (Lib Dem), slammed the proposed Calverley development for being the council's "legacy" project.

KMTV reports ahead of the meeting last night

He said: "I do not want to be here in 50 years' time paying for the 'right' project in the wrong location."

Cllr Linda Hall (Con) said in her 17 years on the council the level of opposition to a project of this nature had been "unprecedented" and feared her party could be wiped out in the next local elections if the scheme went ahead.

Tunbridge Wells residents booed councillors who supported the scheme from the public gallery, while those who objected it were applauded by members of the public.

Two separate votes over the development were held.

The first concerned the provision of a new theatre and the second covered seven other aspects of the Calverley Square development.

Tempers flare over Tunbridge Wells\’ Calverley Square development outside Tunbridge Wells Town Hall (18933461)
Tempers flare over Tunbridge Wells\’ Calverley Square development outside Tunbridge Wells Town Hall (18933461)

The first vote received the backing of just 12 councillors as 23 voted against and eight abstained.

The other seven aspects, which included increasing the cost of the project from £90m to £108m, were voted down by 27 members while 12 voted in favour and four abstained.

Cheers rang the council chamber from the public gallery when the result was announced.

Tunbridge Wells Alliance chairman, Robert Chris, said: "It's an astounding defeat for the cabinet and good to see that reason has finally prevailed."

An existing council cross-party group, which was dedicated to overseeing the Calverley Square project, will now have to look at other options for redevelopment in the town centre.

A new report on the proposed alternatives will be published to full council on December 18.

Read more:All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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