MORE than 450 demonstrators marched down Tonbridge High Street on Saturday (September 23) to protest against the council’s plans to sell off River Lawn and property in River Walk to housing developers.
The throng chanted ‘Keep River Lawn Green’ and ‘Not For Sale’ and carried a plethora of inventive placards as they marched from Quarry Hill up the High Street and congregated at River Lawn.
Lucy Athey addressed the crowd on behalf of the campaigning group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG], and she was also interviewed on Pat Marsh’s show on BBC Radio Kent and on BBC South East’s television news.
In her speech she called for a referendum and asked: “How can it be that in 2017 our council is recklessly trying to sneak the sale of our publicly owned spaces through without even asking our opinions?”
The fate of River Lawn will be decided at a meeting of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s six-person Cabinet on October 11.
‘What an amazing spirit and tenacity of conviction
the people of Tonbridge have’
Controversially, the official body’s constitution is highly unusual in that such crucial decisions about publicly owned land do not have to be voted upon by all members of the council.
The former CAB building is also included in the package, while the former Teen and Twenty club on River Walk has already been sold to make way for a new medical centre, for which the planning application was recently submitted.
Sarah Spence, the Councillor for Vauxhall Ward, was one of several local representatives who offered support to the march.
She congratulated the organisers on ‘a fantastic turnout demonstrating with such strength – what an amazing spirit and tenacity of conviction the people of Tonbridge have’.
She added: “Thank you for the pride you have in Tonbridge, and for how much you cherish and are willing to fight for its precious green spaces.
“The collective voice of a unified group of people who want the good of their community is – and always will be – a force to be reckoned with.”
Mark Hood of the Barden Residents’ Association said: “I must admit I have never been so proud to live in Tonbridge as I am today.
“Looking back down the High Street from River Walk and seeing the march stretching all the way back to the library was amazing. What a day!
“This was made possible by the dozens of organisers and volunteers who have been out leafleting – and by people realising they can make a difference.”
The next date in the campaign calendar ahead of the vote will be a traditional conkers competition at River Walk on October 8 to crown the ‘Conkerer of All Tonbridge’, based on the fruit of the trees KRLG are trying to save.
On the date of the Cabinet meeting, campaigners will be heading up to Kings Hill to attend at the council offices. Car sharing will be organised to make sure anyone can come along.
Lucy Athey’s speech in full
“Huge thanks to everyone for joining us marching to River Lawn to support keeping this land a green haven for generations to come.
Many of us will have had children at Sevington Playgroup, the Scout groups nearby or just use River Lawn as a safe cut-through to the park while avoiding the busy high street.
We know how important this tranquil space is and how our kids love foraging for conkers at this time of year.
Nearly a hundred years ago Tonbridge Urban District Council bought the riverside property from the Big Bridge through to Avebury Avenue.
They had the foresight to create a recreation and amenity area for the people of Tonbridge to enjoy.
This was a time of financial hardship too; in the shadow of the Great War the Committee for Unemployment provided funds to put veterans back into work by filling in the polluted side-streams of the Medway which contributed to 38 deaths in from cholera in 1854.
The disease-ridden slums were levelled and the trees we see today were planted to crown the new area of lawn.
How can it be that in 2017 our council is trying to sneak through the sale of our publicly owned spaces without even asking our opinions?
If they want to sell why not hold a referendum like Eastbourne Council, who listened when residents rejected the plans to sell off council owned land?
What is the point of redeveloping the High Street and River Walk to such a high standard if with the other hand they are going to destroy the beautiful open spaces and characterful buildings that make our town so special?
We love our town and we want the council to prove their commitment to it, and us the voters, by abandoning these plans!
You prove just how much we care and that we are a group spanning all age groups and backgrounds. This is not politically motivated, this is community motivated.
The thing that unites us is our commitment to keep River Lawn green. Not for sale! Not for sale! Not for sale!”