DEMONSTRATING POWER Protesters against the sale of River Lawn gather in Tonbridge PHOTO: Emma Stokes

A LEADING Tonbridge & Malling councillor has accused River Lawn protesters of having a ‘Wind in the Willows’ view of the public space.

The council is proposing to put the riverside location up for sale to property developers, prompting a fierce campaign to save it – which culminated in 450 local residents marching up the High Street at the end of last month.

A vote will be taken by Cabinet to decide the fate of River Lawn on October 11.

Controversially, the decision will be taken by the six-person body alone. Unlike other local authorities, the constitution of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] stipulates important votes such as the disposal of public land do not have to be put to Full Council.

Cllr Michael Base, Conservative Councillor for Aylesford North and -Walderslade, has described River Lawn as ‘one of the poorest examples of green space’ and says political motives lie behind the ‘fuss’ and ‘mischief’.

The Vice-chairman of TMBC’s Audit -Committee goes on to claim that not allowing the land on his ‘local patch’ to be sold will mean taking away much needed funds from important services across the borough because TMBC is so short of money.

He said: “Whilst one may enjoy the mind’s-eye idea of River Lawn as all ‘The Wind in the Willows’, in truth it is little used. It is also a world away from those who have no choice but to rely on the services that TMBC provides.”

Cllr Base invites protesters to come and meet those who need these vital resources and explain to them why they will be taken away.

He concludes: “If we did not sell we would be both financially and morally poorer. We would have swapped vital, oft unseen, needed services for a small patch of underused grass and a few conkers.”

The letter in full:

Much political mischief has been made out of the proposed sale of the area known as River Lawn by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC].

The uncharitable might ascribe only political motives to the fuss; apparently keen to protect one of the poorest examples of ‘green space’ only yards from one of the best, Tonbridge Racecourse Ground. The charitable might see more a misunderstanding of the priorities of this council.

As Vice-Chairman of TMBC’s Audit Committee, I know only too well the pressures that exist today.

We are expected to provide the same services for considerably less money year on year. TMBC has been much better at this than nearly all other authorities. Not slashing services, but entering into a proper and well thought through medium-term financial strategy. As such, front-line service provision is largely untouched.

As a local councillor, I understand that it is only by careful long-term planning and stewardship that we truly protect and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable.

While one may enjoy the mind’s-eye idea of River Lawn as all ‘The Wind in the Willows’, in truth it is little used. It is also a world away from those who have no choice but to rely on the services that TMBC provides.

It is therefore only by making decisions in the best interests of the whole borough that we can really succeed. In the grown-up world of running a council, I am fully aware that sometimes my local patch has to forgo a small part in order to create the borough that we all wish to see.

Will those who oppose this come with me to explain to one group or the next the reason that their particular service must end for good?

If we did not sell we would be both financially and morally poorer. We would have swapped vital, oft unseen, needed services for a small patch of underused grass and a few conkers.

Cllr Michael Base

Conservative Borough Councillor for Aylesford North and Walderslade