Tunbridge Wells council clarifies ‘CPO letters’

Pam Mills

Town Hall has moved quickly to quell fears that it will issue Compulsory Purchase Orders [CPOs] to retailers next to the Civic Complex and theatre site.

Restaurant Kai’s Kitchen, jewellers Walsh Bros and the British Heart Foundation charity shop are all neighbours on Mount Pleasant and received letters from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council on Friday [May 11].

This was two days after planning permission was granted to build the contested £90million complex on land next to Calverley Grounds.

The letter, seen by the Times, has the heading ‘this communication affects your property’ and states ‘the council is considering making a CPO to acquire land and interests of land’.

Authorities can implement a CPO to force businesses to give up land or even the entire property.

The Town Hall has previously told the Times that a CPO would only be required ‘as a last resort’ and said only one was being considered. It is understood this relates to Hoopers department store, whose land the council may need to access to allow the theatre operation to run.

The letter goes onto say: ‘This information is required by the council to ensure all persons with a relevant interest in the land are served with the appropriate statutory notices in respect to the CPO and are kept informed throughout the process.’

But the council has denied this means a CPO will be used to force out any of the retailers.

Cllr Tracy Moore, Portfolio Holder for Civic Development Communications said yesterday [Tuesday]: ‘There is no intention to compulsorily purchase Kai’s Kitchen, Walsh Bros or the British Heart Foundation shop.

‘This is a complex and important project and one of the things that has to be done as part of the development work is ensure we fully understand who owns property or has rights on the site and nearby properties.

‘The letter has been sent on behalf of the council to those with property and property rights in the area. It encloses a statutory notice that asks for information about ownership and access rights.

‘It is not a letter saying the council is compulsorily purchasing properties and there are contact details in the letter for anyone who is concerned to be able to speak directly to a member of the council’s property team.’

John King, owner of Kai’s Kitchen, said: ‘It is the latest run-in with the council in an ongoing situation. We have just reopened after being flooded and this letter has come as a bit of a shock.’

Opponents of the Civic Complex have criticised the Conservative-run council’s handling of the situation.

Lib Dem Cllr Ben Chapelard said: ‘These letters have caused alarm to three business owners.

‘The council previously told shopkeepers and briefed councillors that these shops would not face a CPO.’

Tunbridge Wells Alliance Cllr Nicholas Pope said: ‘Understandably, business and property owners will be very surprised, and, in many cases, shocked, to have received these without prior warning and explanation.’

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