BROKEN DREAMS The Teen and Twenty Club will be demolished

TONBRIDGE’S Teen and Twenty Club in River Walk was sold to private developers at less than market value by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC], it has emerged.

But the council has assured the Times that if the proposed sale of the adjacent River Lawn goes ahead, it will insist on the highest price available on the open market.

TMBC sold the Teen and Twenty Club earlier this year to Assura, who will build a medical centre there for Tonbridge Medical Group. A planning application was submitted last month. The move is part of a review of all TMBC assets by valuers Hartnell Taylor Cook.

They looked at potential sales that would improve services and provide a financial return to ease TMBC’s large budget deficit.

Assura will own the site and lease it to Tonbridge Medical Group, which will use it to replace two surgeries on Higham Lane and Pembury Road which have been deemed unfit for purpose.

Last week the Twitter handle @TMBC Torygroup was asked to confirm reports from sources within the council and Assura that the land on River Lawn Road had been sold off at a discount.

Conservative Councillor David Lettington responded: “The other councillors and Assura are correct that the Teen and Twenty will be sold at below the market value to ensure that the funding for the new medical centre is viable.”

He added: “My understanding is that the project would not be financially viable without the discount from the council.”

Cllr Lettington, whose ward is Snodland East and Ham Hill in the north of the borough, is the Cabinet Member for Street Scene and Environment Services.

He was unable to provide a figure for the deal, saying: “Our legal team say that we can’t reveal the exact amount of the ‘undervalue’ at this stage, but my understanding is that this will be published when terms are agreed.”

‘The project would not be financially viable without the discount from the council’

The sale would not immediately be used to reduce the council’s £1.6m annual deficit. “None of the funds raised from any sale will go to directly support the revenue shortfall,” said Cllr Lettington.

“Instead these funds would form a capital receipt to be invested. The annual return on the investment would then go to support the revenue budget in future years.”

Cllr Lettington said continued TMBC ownership – with Tonbridge Medical Group paying rent on the site – would have meant there might have been too long a delay in building the centre.

By selling to Assura, which specialises in developing medical facilities, the council has guaranteed the project will go ahead – and be delivered more rapidly.

“On the face of it, it is not desirable to sell it at a lower value,” he admitted. “However, if this allows the new medical centre to go ahead when it otherwise would not be able to, then I believe it is justified.

“As a Council we wish to see improved facilities for residents – and this is one way of enabling it.”

Councils are duty bound to deliver the best return they can on the sale of public land, under Section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972.

But Cllr Letttington points out that there is an exemption ‘where they can achieve an improvement in the social wellbeing of the area [General Disposal Consent 2003] if they accept a reduced value. I believe that this is demonstrably true here.”

The council’s Central Services Director, Adrian Stanfield, told the Times: “The sale price agreed with Assura is commercially sensitive information, but we are able to confirm that the price is in accordance with a valuation of the land (with a covenant requiring it can only be used as a medical centre) provided by our externally appointed valuers, Hartnell Taylor Cook.”

He revealed that if the council’s Cabinet decides to sell the disputed River Lawn site to private developers after its vote on October 11, there will be no discount on offer to prospective buyers.

“If, after consideration of the objections, the Cabinet agree to dispose of the area of open space at River Lawn Road, it is envisaged that the sale would take place via tender or public auction, so as to achieve the best price available on the open market.”

Cllr Lettington, whose ward is Snodland East and Ham Hill in the north of the borough, is the Cabinet Member for Street Scene and Environment Services.

He was unable to provide a figure for the deal, saying: “Our legal team say that we can’t reveal the exact amount of the ‘undervalue’ at this stage, but my understanding is that this will be published when terms are agreed.”

The sale would not be used to reduce the council’s £1.6m deficit. “None of the funds raised from any sale will go to directly support the revenue shortfall,” said Cllr Lettington.

“Instead these funds would form a capital receipt to be invested. The annual return on that would then go to support the revenue budget in future years.”

Cllr Lettington said continued TMBC ownership – with Tonbridge Medical Group paying rent on the site – would have meant too long a delay. By selling to Assura, which specialises in developing medical facilities, the council has guaranteed the medical centre will be built.

“On the face of it, it is not desirable to sell it at a lower value,” he admitted.

“However, if this allows the new medical centre to go ahead when it otherwise would not be able to, then I believe it is justified.

“As a Council we wish to see improved facilities for residents – and this is one way of enabling it.”

The council’s Central Services Director, Adrian Stanfield, told the Times that if the council sells the disputed River Lawn site to private developers after its vote on October 11, there will be no discount.

“If the Cabinet agree to dispose of the area of open space at River Lawn Road, it is envisaged that the sale would take place via tender or public auction, so as to achieve the best price available on the open market.”