HOMEMADE placards, specially written protest songs and a sense of defiance were all brought along to River Lawn on Sunday as residents voiced their opposition to plans to sell the land.
According to organisers of the family protest, roughly 400 people, young and old, attended throughout the day, with 343 signing a petition, meaning there are now more than 2,000 signatures registered against the Borough Council’s plans.
Musical entertainment was provided throughout the day by Tom Carradine, Dan Russell, Sam Dunstall and Ted Rogers, with the latter two performing a recently penned River Lawn protest song.
The protesters were objecting to Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s [TMBC] decision on February 9 to put the riverside green space that runs between River Lawn Road and the Medway up for sale, as well as the site of former Citizens’ Advice Bureau building.
Discontent with the plans has been growing for months, led by the Keep River Lawn Green campaign group, which was established by the Barden Residents’ Association [BRA] earlier this year.
Secretary of BRA Lucy Athey said: “I met so many people today who knew nothing about TMBC’s plans for River Lawn or the old CAB site – all were against them and almost 350 signed the petition and took away information for their friends and neighbours.
“It was heartening to see how many came out to voice their protest today, young and old and from diverse backgrounds. I just hope TMBC listen to the public.”
One of the organisers, Lisa Copley said: “It is very short-sighted of TMBC to want to sell this land and the people of Tonbridge will do everything we can to stop that from happening.
“We want to encourage TMBC to tidy it up and make it more usable. It has been shown today with our protest that it is a community area that people value and can be used for anything from community events to picnics.
“Please talk to us TMBC, listen to our views and work with us instead of against us.”
The group say they will continue to plan events and are encouraging everyone to attend the council’s next Cabinet meeting on June 28.
In defence of TMBC’s plans Council Leader Nicolas Heslop said: “On 9 February 2017, the Council’s Cabinet considered a strategic review of the Council’s principal property assets to the west of Tonbridge High Street. The aim of the review was to utilise our existing assets in order to help provide vitality to the town centre as well as optimising their use in terms of service delivery, community benefit and financial return.
“The Council had been approached by Tonbridge Medical Group and developers acting on their behalf to purchase the land for the purposes of constructing a new, and much needed, facility for their patients. The Council has agreed to dispose of the Teen and Twenty Club and a small strip of adjacent open space to enable this development to take place. The sale of the small area of open space was subject to public consultation and no objections were received in response to the advertisement.
“The remaining open space between the Teen and Twenty Club and the Tonbridge Sportground is underused and immediately adjacent to the Sportsground, which is a vibrant and extensive area, with a full range of children’s play area, picnic site, skate park and numerous walks. It hosts a wide range of community events throughout the year including the Tonbridge Calling, Park Run, Football Fiestas and weekly football matches.
“The sale of this land would also bring about an improvement to the visual and environmental quality of the area, including public realm improvements and the design of any new facility. It would also act as a catalyst for redevelopment of other areas of land. We have received comments about the proposals to sell off this area of open space at River Lawn, and these will be considered at the next meeting of Cabinet to be held in June.
“Tonbridge has already benefitted from several key developments in recent months including the refurbishment of the award winning Town Lock and improvements to River Walk. These latest proposals represent an important regeneration opportunity by making beneficial use of land in the heart of Tonbridge that can contribute to the economic and community wellbeing of an area very close to the High Street.