The proposed Civic Complex

THE Tunbridge Wells Alliance has launched as a political party by announcing that the former Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Leader Bob Atwood is their new Chairman.

Having started as a pressure group, founded primarily to oppose the controversial plans for a £90million Civic Complex and theatre, the new party has committed to standing candidates in the borough elections on May 3.

On Friday [March 16], Mr Atwood resigned from the Conservative Party – which he led in Tunbridge Wells from January 2011 until May 2012, when he lost his Rusthall seat to UKIP’s Piers Wauchope.

He replaces Dr Robert Chris as Chairman, who has stood down because of health reasons.

The Tunbridge Wells Alliance officially launched on Friday, days after the Times reported the party had registered with the Electoral Commission.

Tory council members David Jukes, who replaced Mr Atwood in the authority’s top job, and Tracy Moore welcomed the announcement by saying this would bring the Alliance ‘out of the shadows’.

Mr Atwood said: “I am not sure what shadow world they inhabit, but the Alliance has been open and clear about its ambitions from the outset.

“We are an entirely local group, determined to see our local council become more accountable for their actions, more open and ready to consult. We want the council to be prepared to concentrate on their core responsibility of planning and refuse collection, and to leave vanity projects to others.”

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council voted 30 to 13 to pass advanced plans for the Civic Complex in December, and are now seeking planning permission to build on land next to Calverley Grounds.

Since becoming established, the Tunbridge Wells Alliance has attracted 1,000 people backing the movement online, but has also seen members, including Liberal Democrat Councillor Ben Chapelard, leave the group, although in his case it was due to claims of a conflict of interest.

Business consultant Peter Wooster and Nicholas Pope are the party’s Additional Officers, who must be named upon foundation. Friends of Calverley Grounds Chairman Mr Pope, a founding Alliance member, said: “Bob Atwood wanted to come on board and help us because he believes in what we are saying and what we want to do.”

Mr Pope said the Alliance’s focus had shifted from looking to take legal action against the council, something he now considers ‘unlikely’.

The group’s online money-raising initiative, initially established to fund legal bills, will now be used to fund their election campaign.

Tunbridge Wells Alliance candidates are likely to contest seats that councillors who voted for the Civic Complex are looking to defend.

Mr Pope could not confirm how many candidates would be entered and where they would be, but he said the focus would be on the whole borough.

“If there is one candidate people would expect to stand, it would be me,” he added.

“We have had a lot of positive reaction online [for the possibility of us putting up candidates].

“Being a pressure group, we have found that being able to have a say was very difficult to have any impact. At council meetings you get three minutes to put a point across.

“You can be ignored and essentially the discussion course continues on regardless. This has left us with few options.

“We want residents to have more of a say, so they don’t just get three minutes. They should be allowed to re-enter discussion at some point.”

Mr Pope said the party would campaign on issues such as congestion and waste collection, refuting Cllr Jukes’ claim they were a ‘one issue party’. But he acknowledged that the Civic Complex was the ‘hot potato’, and opposing it was the Alliance’s initial focus.

He continued: “I think taking a large number of votes would be fantastic and if we win a number of seats that would be even better. That would send a clear message to the council.”