Tunbridge Wells is about to get another blot on the landscape with the closure on Sunday of Morrisons. The town centre supermarket will be boarded up for the second time since 2006. It is just 200 yards from the old cinema site that has been derelict for more than 15 years.
Residents will remember when the supermarket remained empty for six years, falling into a state of disrepair. The fear is it will now become another major eyesore.
MP Greg Clark called the closure ‘disappointing’ and urged the supermarket chain to deliver on their commitments to find a replacement.
He said: “It is disappointing that Morrisons is closing, especially after the fight we had to get them to reopen the store.
“It is important that the site does not go back to being boarded up and derelict again – Morrisons have told me that they are confident that they will be able to lease the site quickly to other retailers and I look to them to deliver on that commitment.”
However, a spokesman for Morrisons said the company was ‘unable to comment’ on any potential deals to find a new tenant, but said the site would have to be boarded back up to ‘prevent vandalism’.
Despite the setback, members of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council cabinet are next month due to discuss a new ‘Urban Design Framework’ for the town that suggests the site might be suitable for ‘office space, retail and even a hotel’.
If endorsed, the plan could be used to dictate the character of the town for years to come, with implications for both the Morrisons’ site and the old cinema plot.
Compiled by the council’s urban planner, Alan Legg, the document puts forward an ambitious vision for what the two blots on the landscape could look like if the resources are made available.
Speaking to the Times, Mr Legg explained what could occupy the soon-to-be-vacant Morrisons’ supermarket site.
He said: “This is a gateway to the town and has some of the greatest potential for development. It could be a very strong employment area and turned into something worthy of Tunbridge Wells.”
Mr Legg said there was even scope for a building taller than there is now, which would act as a ‘landmark’ for the town.
“A taller building would be possible because the site is situated in one of the lowest points of the town and therefore multi-storey developments have less chance of impacting on the town as a whole,” he added.
Mr Legg said a ‘comprehensive approach’ to redevelopment of the site could see a ‘range of mixed uses’ including the provision of office space, retail and even a hotel.
Morrisons is just one part of a larger area listed in the framework as Zone F, which stretches from Vale Avenue to Clarence Road, incorporating the Family Court – which itself is due to be left vacant by the autumn – while skirting round the Old Post Office apartments.
The document describes the area as ‘visually brutal’ which ‘detracts’ from the character of the conservation area, and lays out a general guide to what full-scale redevelopment would entail.