The future is bright says council leader

    Nicolas Heslop

    Borough council leader Nicolas Heslop is urging residents, traders and local businesses to keep focusing on the long-term benefits of the town’s major regeneration following concerns over a delay to the completion date of the £2.65million High Street project.

    It was hoped that the nine-month Kent County Council scheme would be completed in April but problems over the supply of some brick paving means another month of disruption. Mr Heslop hailed the town’s completed lock area upgrade as an example of the area’s economic regeneration and said that there would be further improvements to River Walk later this summer.

    Plus he believes a number of other key measures, including a council review of its property in Tonbridge to identify potential retail and housing sites, will give yet another boost to the area.

    These measures follow a funding grant of £500,000 towards upgrading Tonbridge train station forecourt in the next year, which will improve its access and the entrance street scene.

    Mr Heslop said: “The High Street works will have an impact, though it has taken some time to complete. There has been some snagging from the beginning, but it is important we focus on the area as a retail destination, as the High Street hasn’t had any investment for the past 20 years.

    “This is why the Government recognised we had a compelling case for growth funding,” explained the leader, who said the emergence of new businesses such as Finch House Café and the upmarket Saltwaters fish and chip shop were examples of the new businesses being attracted to the area.

    While he remained disappointed over the collapse of previous plans in 2013 for a major £70million regeneration venture featuring Sainsbury’s and a new cinema at the Angel Centre, he said there were causes for optimism with its present town centre improvement works.

    He is aware of concerns over the level of charity stores in the town centre but said the council would like to see a diverse range of companies based there, which he hoped the regeneration scheme would influence.

    “The council doesn’t own the High Street. Its stores are owned by financial groups and private landlords, so we can’t set what businesses are there.

    “While there are a number of charity shops, we would want to have other retail options there as well,” added Mr Heslop, who conceded that the size of available retail units and access issues had been challenging in terms of attracting chain high street businesses.

    Despite this, he said improving the town’s lock and high street would prove an important step towards evolving the town’s economy.

    He added: “The work on the lock is much better than I could possibly have expected and has been a long-held aspiration. It’s something I had pushed for and residents have been delighted with it. It’s made the area much more attractive.”