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Calverley Square project in Tunbridge Wells faces uncertain future after council meeting

The future of a controversial town centre project is uncertain after a dramatic council meeting.

The Conservative group at Tunbridge Wells town hall had led a plan to develop a new office building, theatre, underground car park and public square, claiming it would be key to the borough's future prosperity.

The landmark scheme, named Calverley Square, secured planning permission last year but has been met with significant local opposition.

WATCH: Controversial project suspended after £10 million spent

Many have raised concerns about the project's huge financial cost, which could reach some £90 million, as well as the potential impact on the popular Calverley Gardens and neighbouring homes.

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

Two of those members, Cllrs David Haywood and Christian Atwood, drafted a proposal to terminate the Calverley Square scheme, which was discussed at an extraordinary full council meeting on Monday night.

WATCH: Tunbridge Wells Alliance stated their plans in May

After more than an hour of debate, however, the motion to completely scrap the project was instead amended.

This read: "Cabinet be requested to stop all new expenditure on the Calverley Square project with immediate effect and to not enter into further commitments other than with the involvement of all political parties and relevant stakeholder groups to manage an orderly consideration of all alternative proposals."

The motion was passed by the council, with 24 votes in favour, compared to 20 against.

An artist's impression of the proposed Tunbridge Wells theatre complex
An artist's impression of the proposed Tunbridge Wells theatre complex

A further motion requesting the full council, rather than just the cabinet, be consulted over whether it wants to proceed to the construction stage of the project was also backed by 30 votes to 14.

Council leader Cllr Alan McDermott said: “The problem we have is that the existing Assembly Hall Theatre and Town Hall are nearing the end of their usable lives and, as the town continues to grow, we believe that it deserves cultural facilities fit for the 21st century and that would benefit residents, businesses and visitors alike.

"Back in 2015 there was a cross-party consensus that we need to do something, and I am disappointed that this political consensus has now broken down.

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)

"As the chairman of the Town Forum said recently, we face a dilemma whereby the Planning Inspectorate has said there was a compelling case in the public interest to proceed but local residents have concerns about it.

"I have therefore proposed that we pause while we await information on the scheme and that we work with other political parties and residents and businesses to understand their concerns and any alternative proposals as to how to proceed.

"What is absolutely clear is that there are no zero cost options."

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