HUNDREDS of jobs risk being moved out of town when the sale one of the largest office buildings in Tunbridge Wells is completed next year.
Around 60 businesses are currently based in Calverley House, which is situated in the town centre on the corner of Camden Road and Calverley Road. Together they are believed to employ approximately 650 people.
However, the block is currently in the process of being sold to developers Pineview Property Group who specialise in the creation of luxury flats.
The Times has published a number of stories raising concerns over the fact that offices across the town are being converted into more profitable residential units.
Last year the Civic Society warned that Tunbridge Wells is in danger of turning into ‘a dormitory of over-priced flats for commuters.’
In a letter seen this week by the Times, the agency Solution Business Space Ltd – acting on behalf of the freeholder of the building, Calverley Court Ltd – states the sale is due to be completed in ‘January 2018’, adding:
“We understand Pineview are intending to implement the planning permission for redevelopment of Calverley House, although we await formal notification of their intentions.”
The sale has left many occupants scrambling to find new places to house their businesses, and comes at a time when Tunbridge Wells is seeing a rapid decrease in the amount of floor space available. Calverley House alone counts for 37,081.67 sq ft (3,445 sq m) of office space.
Larry Hardcastle, whose web agency Larrytech employs 14 people in the building, said most of the companies based there are on licenced contracts which are renewed monthly or quarterly – meaning January could see many firms with little choice but to leave.
He said: “We are all looking for space which simply doesn’t exist in Tunbridge Wells. We require about 700 sq ft, but there is nothing suitable.
“It is a worry for my staff as most live in the town and it would be a hassle for them and more expense, if we had to relocate.
“At the moment we have hundreds of people at Calverley House who go out at lunch and after work, spending their money in the local shops and restaurants. When they go it’s going to be pretty grim.”
Craig Strong, of Capital Currencies, said it would be the second time his company had been forced to move due to residential development ‘if and when it happens’. He said any conversion would result ‘in a big push of people out of town.’
One member of the council’s planning committee said their ‘hands were tied’ by central Government rules and so couldn’t prevent the change in use even if they wanted to.
Cllr Lawrence Heasman said: “The building has to permitted development rights, which mean to change the building from offices to residential planning permission does not need to be sought.
“Even if it somehow did come in front of the planning committee and we rejected it, they would simply appeal and the decision would be made by a single planning inspector in their favour.”
As previously reported in the Times, prior approval to convert the building into 112 residential units was sought in August last year which the council granted in October.
It should be noted that prior approval is described as ‘much less prescriptive’ than full planning applications in government guidelines, which add: “This is deliberate, as prior approval is a light-touch process which applies where the principle of the development has already been established.”
Pineview did not respond to a request for comment.