Plans for the Southborough Hub are due to be considered by Tunbridge Wells Council’s Planning Committee today after being recommended for approval by council officers.
In what will be a bitter blow for those opposing the scheme, a report released by council officers states the scale, layout and design of the building would ‘respect the context’ of the site and ‘preserve the visual amenities of the locality.’
It goes on to add: “The contemporary design, indicative landscaping and lighting of the Hub and its surrounding public realm would establish a strong sense of place, appropriate to the development’s location within the centre of Southborough.”
The 51-page report refers to the controversial demolition of the Royal Victoria Hall, but states: “it is concluded that the harm resulting from the loss of this building would be outweighed by the public benefits.
It notes Historic England’s refusal to list the existing building on the grounds that the amount of alterations over time had led the loss of key architectural features, and qualified support for the scheme from the Theatres Trust.
The national advisory body, which was established to promote the protection of theatres, said it ‘welcomed’ the provision of a new theatre as part of the plans but added: “It is important that all operational and design issues are taken into consideration and resolved at this planning stage to ensure the theatre venue and library are viable and will deliver the expected cultural benefits for the local community.”
In a candid recognition to the level of disquiet among some members of the public, the report acknowledges that out of the 237 letters received, only 30 were in support of the scheme.
However, it claims that of the remaining 207: “many responses have been received from people living outside Southborough”.
Tunbridge Wells county councillor Peter Oakford, who is also a former chairman of Southborough Town Council, said: “I am very pleased that officers are recommending the scheme for approval. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to give Southborough the heart it deserves.
“We must make sure that the final look and feel of the building is the best it can possibly be and I will continue to work with willing parties to deliver the best possible outcome.”
Town Council deputy chairman Glenn Lester said: “Southborough is at the dawn of a new era and all the members of the project team should feel proud of their achievement in getting the scheme to this stage.”
Local Labour Party member Martin Betts, who has campaigned against the project, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the planning officers’ decision to recommended approval of the plans. He added: “Objectors believe that they have a strong case supported by most people in town, who just want to be heard. I am sure the Planning Committee will be fair minded and take a broader Tunbridge Wells view of the project, particularly about the fitness of the building design, the demolition of an historic local theatre, and the loss of valuable soccer pitches to housing development.”