BENCHMARK The match at the Nevill attracted 7,000 spectators over four days PHOTO: Lee Smith

Residents of Tunbridge Wells will question the wisdom of the borough council paying out £25,000 each year to host the country cricket festival when it receives no direct benefit from the event.

That’s the view of the council following the Times story last month about the future of the festival being in grave doubt because of the poor state of the pitch and outfield ahead of Kent’s match against Sussex.

Kent County Cricket Club (KCCC) considered switching the match to Canterbury.

Kent’s Chief Executive Jamie Clifford has warned that the four day festival, held in the town for more than 100 years, may not return next year if there is no noticeable improvements by September.

In a joint statement to this newspaper Council Leader David Jukes and Cabinet member Cllr Jane March said:

“We know that KCCC had concerns about the preparation of the ground and whether it would be playable, we fully understand this and apologise.”

“We are keen to learn from this experience and have been speaking to our groundstaff to identify what we can take from this to prevent a reoccurrence.”

“I find it hard to believe the council can make such negative comments and clearly underestimate the public’s support.”

But they went on to question the financial viability of the festival.

“The cricket festival is an event that’s going to divide opinion, it’s much loved by those who attend but many residents would undoubtedly question whether the Council should be paying in the region of £25,000 for it to take place when we don’t support any other event in the town by the same amount.

“The Council does not receive any direct benefit; ticket sales, car park revenue and other income goes to Kent [cricket club]. There will, of course, be a benefit to the local economy but this has not been quantified.”

They added: “We are very happy to continue to host Kent playing in Tunbridge Wells but can’t lose sight of these facts. Looking ahead, we have to adjust to the new financial climate and this means investing for the future where we can quantify the benefits and achieve tangible returns.”

Mark Williams, Chairman of Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club (TWCC) said: “I find it hard to believe the council can make such negative comments and clearly underestimate the public’s support.”

TWCC want more of a role in preparing for the county match.

“The club is waiting for a formal response to the complaint we have made about the condition of the ground – but also the proposals from the council giving us options hopefully to have more of a role in the maintenance and management of the ground and promotion of Kent coming to the Nevill, which we all know has a great benefit to Tunbridge Wells in exposure and income coming in to the town.”

Mr Williams disputed the council figures and said: “As far as I am aware the council have not had any complaints from any member of the public that they serve questioning the so-called ‘costs’.

“The numbers mentioned are double what a senior member of the council confirmed were the estimated costs six weeks ago and are clearly not accurate.

“If the council had concerns then they should liaise with us and any local businesses or sponsors and take a business approach. The lack of a business input and transparency in the council on this is bewildering and concerning.”