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Plans for Cranbrook Community Centre, Wilkes Field, and Cranbrook Engineering site, Stone Street, approved

By Ed McConnell

A parish council now faces raising £4m after overcoming the latest obstacle in a planning saga that has rumbled on for more than 15 years.

Cranbrook received the news it had been waiting for on Wednesday night when Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) narrowly voted to approve a £20m town centre regeneration project.

It's a big step forward for the plans, which centre around the former Cranbrook Engineering site in Stone Street and farmland at nearby Wilkes Field and would deliver shops, flats and a community centre.

The new community centre
The new community centre

In November the project received a significant boost when councillors gave developers the go ahead to demolish nine buildings and stabilise a 10th listed range at the Stone Street site.

That permission marked the end of eight month's of uncertainty, after TWBC served an 11th hour demolition prevention notice citing potential historical significance.

It was, however, conditional on a full application being approved and now that has happened work can start at the site which is owned by Guy Johnson.

Cranbrook Engineering in Stone Street
Cranbrook Engineering in Stone Street

The community centre project is in the hands of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council, who will now set about funding the scheme.

Cllr Bridget Veitch, chairman of the parish council who spoke at Wednesday's meeting in favour of the plans, said: "Any site of potential development in the centre of a medieval town is going to excite controversy.

"The very fact it's been on the cards for more than 15 years shows that and also meant the plans are very well put together."

She added the decision was never going to please everyone, with pockets of dissent within the parish council and Cllr Dr Linda Hall, who is also a borough councillor, speaking out against the proposals and wanting the preserve the site.

Mrs Veitch said: "This is a big step forward and we are very happy we have achieved this. Obviously this is not the end of the story and we now have to raise £4m.

"But all we had before were promises and fresh air. Now we have got permission we can start to raise those funds."

Bridget Veitch, chairman of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council
Bridget Veitch, chairman of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council

She added £750,000 has already been pledged in verbal and written agreements and another key challenge will be to try and address residents' concerns about the project.

In April Cranbrook residents voted against parish plans to get a £2m loan for the project, which would have been paid off over 50 years through increased council tax.

Seven councillors voted for the plans, five were against and one abstained, while a separate application to make minor alterations to the grade II listed range in Stone Street won unanimous support.

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