On December 6 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will vote on whether or not to give the go ahead to the building of the Civic Complex and theatre on land adjoining Calverley Grounds. It is probably the most important decision this borough has taken in decades and will shape our future for generations. The debate between those in favour and those against has been fierce as is to be expected and indeed welcomed. A council dominated by one political party, in this case Conservatives, needs to be held to account. This week we put the relevant questions to both sides to help ratepayers make up their own
minds on where they stand. Putting the case for the Civic Complex project is Cllr Tracy Moore…
What evidence have you that the majority of ratepayers support the project?
Since we started making this project a reality and taking it beyond being an objective of our Five Year Plan I have attended a lot of meetings with residents and other stakeholders. I’ve knocked on the doors of people living in my ward and I’ve been stopped in shops by people wanting to talk about it. From all of these conversations it is clear to me that there is growing support from residents. Many with young families, or those with children who are now young adults, have showed enthusiasm for an investment to maintain the town’s attractiveness and the business community I’ve spoken to understands the need for investment in culture and leisure in our town. I realise that not everyone is going to be supportive but there are few projects, if any, that would get unanimous support from all quarters. It is not just about today’s taxpayers but also our duty to plan for the future and invest for generations to come, in the same way councillors
did in the 1930s with the existing civic complex.
Tell us the single biggest benefit it would bring to the town?
A new theatre would ensure that we are an attractive, financially secure and culturally-rich borough and not just a commuter dormitory for London. By investing in growth we can avoid decline.
What is the real downside of it not happening?
I fear there will not be another opportunity to deliver a new theatre for Tunbridge Wells and if it doesn’t happen then at least £31million will still have to be borrowed to refurbish the existing buildings and maintenance costs will continue to rise. Spending these millions and not taking advantage of this opportunity for growth seems poor value for money. As I’ve said so many times the existing theatre would still not be fit for purpose and we wouldn’t be able to offer new office accommodation for businesses to grow in
the centre of Royal Tunbridge Wells. This was brought home to me when I was in Canterbury recently and discussed their theatre project with a business leader. He said if your theatre is currently going downhill and backwards and you then look five years ahead where do you expect to be? – how true.
How will you judge it a success and how do you see it fitting into any bigger vision for the town?
A successful new theatre would be one where everyone in the community feels it belongs to them and that they belong there. When we see the borough thriving and when the projections made by leading experts in their fields are delivered.
How bad will the disruption to daily life prove, how will you deal with it and how long will it last?
Berkeley Homes are delivering hundreds of homes, a new office and a school on the old Kent & Sussex Hospital site and it has caused minimal disruption through careful planning and ongoing monitoring. We want to follow this example and keep the disruption to a minimum. We have prepared a construction management plan and we will ensure we keep people informed about what is happening. If the scheme goes ahead I expect we will see construction taking place over a two to three year period and buildings completed by early 2022.
Did you expect such organised opposition to the development?
Change is never without controversy but the degree of personal attack has surprised me. This is a project to invest in the future. It is a positive vision but those who oppose it have capitalised on fear and anger.
You’ve suggested the opposition is being led by so called NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), what evidence of that do you have? And does it matter?
I was elected to represent the residents in my ward, the wider borough and to provide civic leadership. I must uphold a code of conduct and declare any interest I may have in any Council agenda item. Residents are entitled to their own views and opinions but what can be challenging is when information is misrepresented in an attempt to sway opinion. If people have a self-interest in opposing this or any other project I feel strongly that they should declare it.
What lessons have you learned in selling this idea to the public and what would you do different the second time around?
I am not trying to sell the idea. It deserves to succeed on its own merits. But you can never do enough. We have spoken to thousands of people – businesses, individuals, interest groups, parish and town councils. We’ve been talking publicly about the progress of the idea since 2014 and we have tried to involve as many people as possible at
different stages of the project.
What guarantees can you give ratepayers that it will not prove such a financial burden that cuts in council services will need to be made?
The financial plan to borrow £77 million has been independently audited and verified by experts as being sound and prudent. We have identified savings and efficiencies to service the debt from when we draw down the loan and some of these savings have already begun in anticipation of the project being given the go-ahead. We are putting these savings into a ring-fenced civic development reserve fund so we’re ready to start paying back the debt.
Give us five words that, in your view, describe the initiative?
Cultural investment for the future.