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Calverley Square in Tunbridge Wells planning decision - scheme turned down

ByCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter

A town centre project dubbed 'a mini Brexit' because of its divisive nature was turned down tonight.

The Calverley Square development, proposed for the heart of Tunbridge Wells, included plans for a new office building, theatre, underground car park and public square.

Calverley Square turned down (18890450)
Calverley Square turned down (18890450)

But it was rejected at a meeting of the full council tonight after more than 100 objections to the scheme.

Supporters of the council plans saidthe development would be an upgrade on the existing "ailing" Assembly Hall theatre and Town Hall.

Planning permission for the landmark project was secured last year.

But it has been met with significant local opposition, with many raising concerns about the huge financial costs, which could reach some £108 million, as well as the potential impact on the popular Calverley Gardens and neighbouring homes.

The application divided opinion at tonight's meeting.

Ahead of the vote, Cllr James Rands (Lib Dem) said the local authority couldn't afford to get it wrong and urged the need for a credible plan.

Cllr Linda Hall (Con) says 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.

She suggested leaving a project of this nature in the hands of the private sector rather than the purses of the taxpayer.

Cllr Bob Backhouse (Con) said he had never seen so much “hyperbole” around complaints made against the plan and added the redevelopment was needed to make an attractive destination for tourists and bring Tunbridge Wells into the21st century.

Cllr Joe Simmons (Con) described Calverley Square as Tunbridge Wells’ mini Brexit due to its divisive nature,dividing residents and families

A report, released ahead of the meeting, outlined several recommendations - which included 'endorsing' the project.

It stated "Given the importance of culture and leisure to the town’s economy and social environmental and economic wellbeing, and in recognition of the planned growth to the Borough’s population, this council endorses the principle that it wishes to provide a theatre that meets the needs of residents, visitors and producers."

An artist's impression of the proposed civic centre from the Calverley Grounds (9881793)
An artist's impression of the proposed civic centre from the Calverley Grounds (9881793)

It added that the project should be 'approved for funding and delivery'.

An opposition group, the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, was set up to fight the plan and won six seats in May's local elections, which included victory over former Tory leader David Jukes.

The future of the project was thrown into uncertainty during a meeting held in June when two councillors drafted a proposal to terminate the scheme.

A public inquiry into the regeneration project was also launched earlier this year.

Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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