Strong support for the planned Civic Complex and theatre on the edge of Calverley Grounds came from businesses this week with some warning of the consequences for the town if the project does not get the green light.
Firms from across the business spectrum expressed their support of the development that will cost £90million gross and has attracted strong criticism from protestors. The final decision will be taken at a full council on December 6.
Typical was the comment from Hugo Fenwick a director at the department store bearing his name: “The council’s vision is both deliverable and urgently needed for Tunbridge Wells to reassert itself as the cultural, retail and leisure destination for the region as a whole.”
On the criticism that the council is spending too much money on the initiative Markerstudy spokesperson Tanya Gerrard-White said: “The borrowing is a ‘red herring’. The plans have been costed and the finances stack up. Indeed, we have looked at the revenue projections and if anything they are at the bottom end of the range.
“We accept there will be disruption during construction, but in the end it will be worth it.
“We applaud the council and hope common sense will prevail and permission will be granted for all to benefit from this exciting project.”
More support came from Tom Poynter, the Group Managing Director of the Tunbridge Wells creative agency Southpaw that employs 65 people.
In an open, unsolicited letter to the Times he said: “I can’t tell you how hard I have to fight to recruit local talent and disrupt them from getting the train to London every day. And once we have taken months to convince them to join us, I then have to work just as hard to retain them.”
Mr Poynter said his staff want to feel they live and work in a town that is progressive, gives them a chance to build their careers and to really enjoy a work life balance.
On the Civic Complex project Mr Poynter explained: “I am a proud supporter of this proposal and can see the multiple benefits it will bring to the town and businesses like mine.
“It will attract greater talent, it will give us growth potential where we can build new services like a technology hub or be seen as a town famous for innovation, it will attract more people out of London and convince them they can get just as great if not greater opportunities than our capital city.
“The current breed, called the Millennials and the new breed titled the Linksters don’t care so much for long term employment centred in one location like many of us who have gone before.
“They want immersive and cultural experiences through their job and I feel it is our duty to provide the conditions for that.”
[‘Linksters’ are people born after 2002 who have been ‘linked’ to technology from day one.]
Gavin Tyler, Managing Partner of one of the county’s largest law firm Cripps, said: “As a town we need to keep moving forward and looking at how to attract more visitors and provide the best possible place to live for current and future residents.
“The civic centre proposals present an excellent opportunity to better link the top of the town with the High Street and historic Pantiles.
“A modern theatre hosting larger national performances would attract more people and benefit our restaurants, bars and hotels.
“It is right that the proposals for a new civic centre and theatre are part of the wider economic development of Tunbridge Wells, alongside other council owned sites.
John Martin, artistic director of Trinity Theatre, believes the initiative is needed to protect the arts in town.
“We need a paradigm shift and to change the existing structure of our theatres, we need financial support to make that move. Without that I believe we face a grim future with gradual decline.
“It is essential for us to create work in Tunbridge Wells as well as inviting the best to perform.”
The case against
Pressure group TW Alliance fear town businesses may have been misled by the ‘propaganda machine’ of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
The group, formed of town workers and businesses, has already raised issues with the cost of the Civic Complex and figures Town Hall have publicised.
Group chairman Robert Chris said yesterday [Tuesday] : “It must be true that some retail businesses would stand to benefit from the new theatre.
“However, if they have been persuaded by the council’s claim that the theatre would bring an additional £14million to the local economy, they will be acting under a serious misapprehension.
“As we have pointed out, the Shellard formula used by the council is fundamentally flawed and has recently been strongly criticised by the Arts Council.
“Making a more accurate estimate of the economic benefit requires specialist knowledge, but we reckon the figure is closer to £4million, and possibly even less.”
Councillor Frank Williams and Councillor Joe Simmons, held referendums in their respective Sherwood and Southborough North wards where a majority of voters opposed the plans.
Both pledged to therefore oppose plans during the Full Council vote on December 6.