A POSITIVE mood was in the air as the owners of small businesses met with elected representatives from Tonbridge to discuss the state of the local economy.
Organised by the Federation of Small Business (FSB), the event on Friday included talks from Leader of the Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) Cllr Nicolas Heslop, MP Tom Tugendhat. It also allowed various businesses to network and share ideas.
Describing Tonbridge as ‘on the up’, Cllr Heslop said: “I’m delighted to see that high quality businesses are moving into the town, “ and added that he has put economic regeneration at the heart of the Council’s work’ since he wants to see Tonbridge become ‘a vibrant town that people live and work in’.
Cllr Heslop also mentioned the large house building project that the TMBC has outlined in its Local Plan. He said: “I make no apologies for the residential development in the town. If we want people to shop in the town we’ve got to have people living in the town. That’s absolutely essential.”
Owner of the 1809 café in Hildenborough, Dame Kelly Holmes, echoed the council leader’s sentiments. She said: “I’ve lived here all my life and there have been so many positive improvements. Tonbridge used to be the forgotten town but now it is really on the map.”
Tom Tugendhat MP, who previously ran a PR company in Beirut and Damascus, spoke of the importance of getting small businesses together and sharing ideas. He urged them to not copy their large multinational rivals by ‘paying thousands of pounds for lobbying’, instead suggesting they ‘come and talk to me instead’.
He warned that a ‘huge number of changes’ would be coming from the referendum result but he was ‘confident we will get the best deal for Tonbridge’.
Later, many attendees boarded the ‘Small Business Bus’, which was parked by the Tonbridge Castle Watergate. The bus has been running for four years and is now on a five-week tour of the UK. This is the first year it has visited Tonbridge, which was seen as another sign of the town’s improving business-friendly image.