Southborough Hub project criticised by renowned architect

Southborough Hub project criticised by renowned architect

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Southborough Hub Render

One of The Queen’s favourite architects has attacked the proposed Southborough Hub project as being ‘poor’ and out of character. It comes days before the end of the period for public comment to be submitted on the project, which is costing around £30million.

Ptolemy Dean is well known for hosting the BBC television series Restoration, which ran for six years until 2009. He also fronted the BBC’s The Perfect Village.

He criticised the decision not to incorporate any of the original Royal Victoria Hall theatre, which will be demolished to make way for the new community hub.

The architect made the comments on Saturday to the hyperlocal website Southborough News.

Mr Dean said: “I think it is a shame that the replacement scheme is so poor when something more thoughtful and careful might have been created that incorporated the existing building, which would have still satisfied the council’s brief, but enabled something of the old character to survive.”

The town has a ‘rich architectural tradition’ which would have been enhanced by the retention of the existing historic building he explained, adding the proposed design may as well be ‘anywhere’.

He was particularly critical of proposals by Pick Everard – the architectural firm behind the hub – to clad the parts of the building above the ground floor in a lightweight translucent polycarbonate material and create a ‘civic town square environment’.

Mr Dean said: “Plastic cladding is hardly much better than UPVC weatherboard, albeit a different colour.
“The proposed redevelopment plan seems to create a large amount of empty public space where the present building is located – part of which I see is labelled ‘Town Square’.

“In reality, this won’t be a town square in any real sense as the buildings contained in it are too fragmented, incoherent and insufficient to enclose the space from the constant drone of passing traffic along the A26.
“It would be better to keep and refurbish the old building and to create a better and more meaningful public space on its southern side, with some screening of the A26.”

Ptolemy Dean
Picture credit – Architects’ Journal

His intervention comes during the last week for public comments on the planning application for the development, which were submitted at the end of August.

It will also give a significant boost to the numerous opposition groups which have sprung up since the scheme was first mooted.

Southborough and High Brooms Labour Party, which said it would be submitting an objection to the planning application on the basis that the building is ‘out of keeping’ with the area. It also claims there has been inadequate public engagement on the project and that advice from theatre experts and potential users of the hall has been ignored.

The party also objects to what it says will be the detrimental impact on the environment from associated house building and a failure by the councils involved – county, borough and town – to produce a financial sustainability plan.

However, a previous consultation held at the start of the year revealed 58 per cent of respondents favoured a completely new build as opposed to 29 per cent who wished to partly retain the Royal Victoria Hall.

Royal Victoria Hall

Glenn Lester, who is the hub’s project leader at Southborough Town Council, defended the proposed development.

Mr Lester, who has run a Tunbridge Wells building firm for the last 30 years, said: “Personally I would say all architecture is conjecture and it is impossible to please everyone, but I think it is right that the design is built for the future rather than with one foot in the past.

“There is a wide variety of architecture in Southborough, and the plans are there to inspire the town and lead it into the 21st century with a modern and vibrant building that will inspire people.”

The hub architects, Pick Everard, declined to comment at this time.

What is going in the hub?
The hub is being designed to act as a focal point for the town by incorporating a number of community facilities, some of which the three councils behind the project deem to be ‘in very poor state of repair’. Among the facilities to be included as part of the overall complex are:

  • Library
  • Council Offices
  • New theatre
  • Café
  • Medical centre
  • Retail

How will it be funded?
Architects Pick Everard state the overall capital costs are estimated to be around £30million. A large proportion of the money will be recuperated by the construction and sale of around 60 dwellings on part of the Ridgewaye playing fields behind the current Royal Victoria Hall. Other sources of income will be the private hire of the available facilities upon completion.


Ptolemy Dean is a renowned architect in the field of historic preservation and the design of modern buildings which emulate their historical surroundings.

Reportedly a favourite of The Queen and a regular guest of the Royal Family, Mr Dean is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London, with a post-graduate degree form Edinburgh University.

He is best known for his appearances on two BBC television series, Restoration and The Perfect Village. He also serves on the National Trust Architectural Panel.

Mr Dean, who runs the firm Ptolemy Dean Architects, used to live in Tunbridge Wells and now lives in Wadhurst.

He said he knows the proposed hub site quite well and that his children have attended performances at Royal Victoria Hall.