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Tunbridge Wells council unveils 13 sites for new development push

By Kent and Sussex Courier  |  Posted: August 09, 2013

  • care home: The site of the old Cranbrook Council offices TWSL20120222C-001_C

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THIRTEEN sites have been identified in the first wave of an ambitious development plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

At a cabinet meeting on Thursday last week, councillors agreed to spend £500,000 on consultants, lawyers, surveyors and architects, to investigate how best to squeeze more money out of the 13 locations and properties.

A development advisory panel of councillors will oversee the programme, which aims to bring in as much as £30 million to the council from a total of 60 sites over the coming years.

Council leader David Jukes, who is spearheading the initiative, told the Courier he was looking to the future.

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"I'm not selling the family silver but investing in capital projects which will be looking after those taxpayers who will be here for the next 50 or 100 years, including my grandchildren," he said.

Mr Jukes told the cabinet meeting he hoped he could emulate his predecessors who had helped develop the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre – which now generates £1 million a year for the council.

The Mount Pleasant Avenue car park has been earmarked as the site of new office buildings.

Mr Jukes said: "The Mount Pleasant offices would be the biggest development for 20 years. It could bring in £750,000 in revenue to the council for 50 years."

Other spots included in the list were the council's former offices in Cranbrook, which will become a care home, and the former gypsy site in North Farm, which will house small businesses.

A previous attempt to redevelop council assets through the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company, a joint venture with developer John Laing, ended in failure in 2012, after four years with not a single site redeveloped. The final cost to the council was £663,700.

But the cabinet meeting heard this time it would be different.

The council's director of development and environment, Jonathan MacDonald, said: "The approach the council will take to deliver these key projects will be more traditional, using specialist advice."

Mr MacDonald emphasised the cabinet would only be investigating the 13 sites and once any specific proposals were decided on, it would be necessary to consult the public.

"But there is good reason to be very optimistic in relation to a number of the projects," he added.

The development advisory panel was described by Mr Jukes as "cross-party" and is comprised of six Conservative councillors, including Mr Jukes, and Liberal Democrat Ben Chapelard.

During the meeting, Ukip councillor Victor Webb criticised this and demanded councillors from his party and Labour were also allowed to participate in the development programme.

Mr Chapelard told the Courier he did not think other parties necessarily had to be involved and said he was in favour of the cabinet's scheme.

"Providing we are not flogging off land and losing opportunities to bring in extra cash, I think it makes sense to see what we have got and what we can afford," he said.

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  • stuartpage  |  August 12 2013, 3:24PM

    The article in Saturday's Courier is encouraging news because it sets out a range of projects that offer real hope of regeneration for parts of Tunbridge Wells. Setting a budget for professional advice suggests an open approach where the brief for each site can be assessed for design quality as well as financial gain, but it appears that there are still large gaps in the information being offered to the community. For example, how has the brief for the building use class and the surrounding spaces been determined? Thirteen sites will have a major impact on the town and there is no clue as yet as to how they fit in with an overall plan for the town. A thoroughly researched masterplan, taking identity, aspiration, finance, transport and known constraints into account would help avoid the risk of individual developments that do not respond to the wider character, form and social needs of the Borough. SoCAD, the former Town Panel and Civic Society represent a community that is eager to help the Council make Tunbridge Wells the exemplar for a successful and quality environment. Open debate is central to that process. James Galpin and Stuart Page architects and initiators of So Create a Difference

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