Southborough Deserves Better
SEAM sought to preserve the Ridgewaye Fields as a Community Open Space by :-
Raising public awareness
Encouraging the lobbying of decision makers
Promoting a regeneration of Southborough that delivers a community full of vitality, confidence and ambition
The Southborough Environmental Action Movement (SEAM) was formed by a group of local residents in 2011 who were concerned at the plans of the Southborough Town Council to sell off some of the Ridgewaye Fields to Tesco to build a large store and car park. The Group was initially known as "Say No to Tesco" and the associated Facebook Group is still used for communications - and has nearly 500 likes. [note - SEAM has now opened its own Facebook Page (@SouthboroughEAM), but will continue to post across both Groups.]
The supermarket plans failed, but the opportunity of raising cash from the sale of the Fields continued to burn a hole in the Council’s pocket. Southborough Town Council need to raise funds to pay for their vanity Hub project. Some 20% of the Ridgewaye Field is now to be sold for development, with the building of some 69 apartment in multi rise blocks.
This means demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall (a Registered heritage Asset) and the Council Offices next door. The new Hub will then house new Council Offices, a Community Hall and replacement of our popular Library, currently in Yew Tree Road. Also contained within the Hub site is a new Medical Centre to replace the St Andrews Medical Centre - although the funding arrangements for this are not currently in the Public Domain.
The Library site in Yew Tree Road is earmarked for a housing development.
In October 2016 SEAM distributed 5000 Leaflets across Southborough & High Brooms in just a few days thanks to it's army of volunteers. This detailed our opposition to the plans and urged residents to sign our petition and write to the Council with their objections.
Sadly, we lost the argument to protect the Ridgewaye Fields from development and stop the Royal Victoria Hall from being demolished. We presented to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council the SEAM Petition with some 1300 names. At the same time we liaised, over the loss of valuable playing field, with Sport England and the FA; both of whom were against the Council’s plans. Then, at the Planning Meeting we gave presentations on why the proposed Hub plans were wrong for Southborough, together with a detailed report. In addition to SEAMs efforts, some 230 people wrote to the TWBC Planning Portal to register their objections to the plans - this represented 87% of the letters received. The Planning Committee ignored all of this and almost unanimously agreed the plans. However, because of Sports England’s objections, the scheme had to go to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for final approval. We wrote to his office and demonstrated that :-
the Public Consultation was flawed and that Public Opinion had been ignored
that there were errors in Planning Officers Report
that the loss of important Playing Field had been ignored
that the plans involve the demolition of a Heritage Asset and are inconsistent with Planning Policies.
Our views, along with those of Sport England, were rejected by the Minister and planning permission was given. The area of the Ridgewaye Field scheduled for development is now up for sale to build some 69 multi rise apartments and demolition of the RVH has commenced.
We have requested to the Southborough Mayor (Councillor David Elliott) that he makes available the fully costed Business Plan for the Hub (with needs analysis, revenue streams, running costs, project plan, operational model and risk register). Needless to say Southborough Town Council declined. We believe that all this information should be in the public domain – it’s taxpayers money after all. But Councillors prefer secrecy – it helps make them appear competent.
To make way for the demolition, the Town Clerk and her staff have been relocated to an attic room at the Tunbridge Wells Town Hall. This is not only very inconvenient to them, but also for members of the public needing to meet them – there is no public access.
The leaders of Southborough Town Council have then agreed to hand over management of the completed Hub, together with community room (note - not now the much promised State of the Art Theatre) to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Many such facilities in other towns and villages are managed by a Community Trust for the benefit of the locality, but again Southborough Councillors prefer to keep residents at a distance.
The Southborough Town Council met for the last time in the Chamber in London Road on the 23rd February. This had been their home for some 140 years. You can read all about this meeting and view it at Southborough News (scroll through as there are several clips). You will see that some Councillors in the majority party find looking after our Community so interesting, that they fell asleep. At this meeting the Council discussed a proposition that Southborough & High Brooms residents should participate in Neighbourhood Plans – a scheme made law by our MP (Greg Clark) when he was the Minister of State for Planning. Most of the other towns & villages throughout the Tunbridge Wells Borough (and indeed the Country) are now following the scheme. Not here – the majority party voted against – another clear signal that they do not want Community involvement in the running of our town – one can only assume it would expose their weakness.