Opponents of Civic Complex may take legal action

Date set for Calverley Square inquiry

Opponents of the £90million Civic Complex and theatre are considering their options now planning permission has been secured.

In a meeting last week, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s planning committee unanimously backed the development, which could house council offices, business offices and a replacement to the Assembly Hall Theatre from 2021.

Cllr David Jukes, Leader of the ruling Conservative group, welcomed the decision as ‘good news for the transformation of the town’, and construction could begin next October.

Before then, other parties are weighing up if and how to launch a legal challenge, while the project still has a number of hurdles to overcome.

Chiefly, the council may need to obtain a compulsory purchase order [CPO] to access land owned by Hoopers department store.

While the authority said this would only done ‘as a last resort’, Tunbridge Wells Alliance Cllr Nicholas Pope, said this is where the project is most likely to be derailed.

‘We are discussing our options at the moment, but we will challenge it,’ said Cllr Pope. ‘CPOs could derail it as these are out of the hands of the council and other authorities will decide it.’

Bob Atwood, Alliance Chairman, added: ‘We are looking for any means possible to oppose it and there are a number of options open, including legal action.

‘It is a big step and it could be the case of someone taking legal action and us supporting them.’

The nine-member council committee’s decision was made from a planning perspective, rather than a political one. The lengthy debate examined environmental, technical and archaeological concerns.

But it was hardly surprising the board, made-up entirely of Conservative members, passed it as the majority had already given advanced plans their blessing in a full council meeting last December.

At the meeting on Wednesday [May 9] committee member Cllr Bob Backhouse led calls for the project’s approval, stating the 1,200-seat theatre could attract ‘greater footfall’ to boost the town’s economy.

The approval was made despite 148 objections being raised during a public consultation, and only eight comments in favour.

Critics have described the complex as unnecessary, too expensive, not part of a masterplan and damaging to its surroundings.

After the decision Cllr Ben Chapelard, Leader of the Opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: ‘It is not over until the first spade goes in.

‘I can’t imagine the opponents giving up. [If we were in power] we would look to put the project on hold and review it.’

There was some disgruntlement the meeting had been arranged only a week after the borough council elections, which saw three previous committee members stand down.

On Wednesday Cllr Barbara Cobbold gave her apologies and Cllr Linda Hall was also unable to attend, but told the Times she would have opposed.

There were also calls made by the Alliance and Lib Dems for an independent panel to have decided on planning permission.

The BBC and Sainsbury’s have also come out against the Civic Complex during the consultation stage, stating their concerns about noise and dirt from construction.

Other firms, however, including developers British Land and Altitude, have registered support.

The council has not yet confirmed how the existing Town Hall and Assembly Hall, a listed building, will be next used.

It it is understood that construction in Calverley Grounds will not affect the seasonal ice rink or Mela festival area.

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