Tonbridge council rejects bid to transform old CAB building into a cultural centre

    SOCIAL INTERESTS The old CAB building has served many community interests

    A PROPOSAL to buy the old Citizens Advice Bureau building on River Walk as an Asset of Community Value [ACV] in order to stop it being sold to private developers has been turned down by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.
    The campaign group Keep River Lawn Green [KRLG] submitted an application last month to purchase the site at 1-4 River Walk and convert it into a cultural centre with an art gallery, museum, bar and café.
    It is understood that national pub chain JD Wetherspoon, who run The Humphrey Bean on the High Street, is also interested in putting in a bid for the site.
    Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s Cabinet voted on October 11 to allow the sale of the public land to go ahead so that housing could be built on the site.
    But before the decision, which was taken by five councillors, KRLG succeeded in -having the area nominated as an Asset of Community Value.

    ‘The riverside is one of Tonbridge’s most unrealised assets – we can change that’

    This allows any interested party to put in a bid to buy the site. They have six weeks to do so, and then a further six months to raise the required finances.
    Now the council has turned down the initial bid. It has said there is no prospect of the building being in a position to ‘further social well-being or social interests’ within the next five years because the process has already been started to put it up for sale.
    Mark Raymond, the council’s Chief Corporate Policy Officer, wrote to KRLG yesterday [November 28] quoting Section 88(2) of the Localism Act 2011: “As land that has furthered the social well-being or social interests of the local community in the recent past, the test is whether it is realistic to consider it will do so again during the next five years.”
    He said the council decided to sell the land on February 9: “I therefore conclude that the above test has not been met given the prior decision to dispose of the property on the open market.
    “It is not realistic to think, therefore, that 1-4 River Walk will further social well-being or social interests of the local community again during the next five years.”
    The KRLG application had stated: “The whole area here is underused, and redeveloped areas such as the Town Lock have become magnets for anti-social behaviour.
    “We believe this trend will continue all the while there is a lack of evening leisure activity along our waterfront. A thriving enterprise here will re-energise this quarter in a way that retirement flats or luxury apartments cannot.
    “The riverside is one of Tonbridge’s most unrealised assets – we can change that.”
    Previously the building has been used as park keepers’ accommodation, Tonbridge Urban District Council’s rent office and Tonbridge Chamber of Commerce’s offices before CAB moved in.
    “The ongoing theme has been that it has been used to provide support for the community through a number of organisations at affordable rents,” says KRLG.
    The application is for a multi-purpose venue ‘which can fill several cultural vacuums in our town’ including a museum and art gallery.
    The plans included the construction of an orangery, with a bar and café.
    The operation was to be run by the community with profits distributed through a charitable trust ‘with a focus on arts and homelessness reduction projects’.
    KRLG’s Mark Hood said: “We are disappointed but not surprised by this decision. There is no appeal process for applicants so we cannot challenge the legality of the decision.
    “We very much hope that the existing building can be preserved by a subsequent buyer. We are fearful that avarice will come before aesthetics and another characterful corner of our town will be replaced by a bland box.”
    JD Wetherspoon declined to comment on any ACV bid.