FEARS Tunbridge Wells will be reduced to a ‘dormitory town’ due to the decline in office space will be exacerbated after planning permission was submitted to convert Westcombe House into flats.
An estimated 150 people currently work at companies housed in the building; Regis Mutual Management, BNP Paribus and Insafe.
The five storey office block on Mount Ephraim Road, opposite the Job Centre, was sold last September to developer HPJ 10 ltd. Although an exact sales price has not been disclosed, the building was listed for offers ‘In excess of £2.95mililon’.
An application for change of use to convert the top four floors into 24 flats was summited the following month with the consultation ending at the start of the New Year. It is believed the ground floor, occupied by recruitment firm Office Angels, will be left unchanged.A date for approval to be decided has not yet been disclosed.
In February last year the Civic Society said that Tunbridge Wells is in danger of turning into a ‘dormitory of over-priced flats for commuters’. It cited the case of Dairy Crest site in St John’s where the borough council had approved the development of 58 flats.
Westcombe House neighbour and business owner Neil Crook is critical of the proposal to create more flats from offices, describing it as a ‘very dangerous precedent’.
He added: “I support the use of redundant brownfield sites to be developed to deal with the housing shortage, but this site is a fully occupied office block.
“There are two finance companies in there so I imagine the jobs are reasonably well paid. Are these companies/jobs staying in Tunbridge Wells? If not, are the council happy to see good jobs disappear?
“Whilst there may be offices vacant in the town there are not many purpose built blocks like this.”
“We seem to be going down a worrying road of moving out jobs employing local people and moving in elderly and retired people from outside the area. And let’s be honest, it’s not likely that any of these flats will be affordable for local people to move into.”
A spokesman for Regis Mutual said the company has not been given a timeframe for when work will begin but was ‘proud’ to employ 50 people in the town adding: “Regis is committed to growing our business in the Tunbridge Wells area and we will be keeping an eye on local space and making contingency plans in case we are not able to extend the lease.”
Both BNP Paribus and Insafe declined to comment. Developer HPJ 10 ltd was unavailable for comment.