Tunbridge Wells Borough Council could be forced to buy a ‘valueless’ plot of land if plans for a new cultural hub in Southborough fall flat.
Council leaders are expected to agree to a deal in a cabinet meeting tomorrow that would commit them to buying the land from Kent County Council if the project collapses.
The move has been challenged by critics, with UKIP’s Chris Hoare saying it leaves ‘question marks’ hanging over the controversial project.
The plot is a 500msq area of undeveloped land behind Lloyds bank, and needs to be bought from the bank to unite the proposed development site.
Neither Southborough nor the borough council can afford to pay their share, so Kent County Council, joint partner in the project, has agreed to foot the bill.
However, they have only done so on the condition that the borough council buys the land from them at an equivalent price should the hub not be delivered.
A report made to the cabinet by their advisory committee states: “KCC is seeking to protect itself should the project not come forward, which in the case of the Lloyds Bank land, could leave the county with a valueless parcel of land with no rights of way.”
It goes on to recommend agreeing to the deal, concluding: “Without these decisions the Southborough Hub project will not be progressed.”
Cllr Chris Hoare said: “It’s an interesting commitment, isn’t it? Is it appropriate? Is it necessary?
“Essentially, they’d be paying for land that nothing is going to happen on. That’s not a good position to be in.
“The hub project is going to cost about £4.5m, and the development of 50 houses (the proposed method of funding for the project) is not going to cover it. We see question marks everywhere.”
Doubts relate to the duration and location of the project. Cllr Hoare has been campaigning against encroachment onto the green spaces of The Ridgeway.
And Cllr Jason Reeves raised concerns about the ‘secretive’ project’s duration last week, claiming it could be four years before completion.
A council spokesman said: “The Cabinet decision is a safeguard in the unlikely event that the project does not go ahead.
“How the purchase is to be funded would be addressed within the context of the Council’s capital programme at that point in time.
“Should the land come into TWBC ownership it would be managed within the property asset portfolio.”