Adrian Berendt said last week’s Panorama: How to save the High Street, highlighted that towns are now paying the price for adopting the same retail model during the 80s and 90s.
“I think Panorama showed me that Tunbridge Wells is not alone in the issues that we face,” he explained.
“All towns adopted this same model of being shopping centres and that was a mistake.
“Clearly what needs to happen is that we need things other than retail in our town centres, such as more leisure activities. Retail should be a part of it. If you take Tunbridge Wells, The Pantiles and the High Street are really thriving, it is the top of town where there are issues.
“But the key thing for me is that a town centre should be about community and places for people to meet and engage with one another. It should not just be about buying stuff. We need a mix of services that encourage people to visit our town centre.”
He says while he understands that is exactly what the Council were trying to do with their now failed Calverley Square scheme, he felt there was a lack of engagement with the project.
He continued: “Having spoken to a lot of local people and businesses about Calverley Square, the big message coming back was a lack of consultation over the process.
“People seemed to like many different aspects of it, but just not all of it. The community really has to buy into any vision.”
And while the documentary showed a number of different schemes various towns were trying up and down the country, Mr Berendt warned that Tunbridge Wells couldn’t simply borrow ideas from other towns.
“All towns are different so they need to try different things. I think it really is about asking the community what they want their town centre to be. But now is the time to act because the pressure is mounting. Of course we mustn’t do anything that is too kneejerk, but we do need to get on with it. We need to hurry slowly, if I can coin the phrase.”
He added that the BBC programme will be discussed at the next Town Forum meeting at the Town Hall on January 30.
Panorama’s How to save the UK’s High Street is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.