Community centre ‘nearly there’ after deal struck with supermarket

A community centre was first proposed on Wilkes Field, a patch of waste ground just off the High Street, more than 15 years ago, but the project has been beset with delays.

The community centre is part of joint project with a proposed mixed-use development on the site of the derelict Cranbrook Engineering in Stone Street.

Both pieces of land are owned by local businessman, Guy Johnson, who donated the field to the Parish Council so they could build the £4million community centre, while he was hoping to build a development featuring flats and shops on the engineering works.

The two projects share planning permission, and both came to a grinding halt several years ago because of access rights to the car park in front of the Co-op.
The car park belongs to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

Explaining the issue, Chair of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council [CSPC], Cllr Bridgette Veitch, said: “Around 13 or 14 years ago an agreement was reached between the supermarket and the borough council who agreed not to give any access rights to the car park without consent from the Co-op.

“There have been ongoing discussions with them for many years, and originally they said come back to us once you have planning permission.”

Following planning approval in 2016, negotiations with lawyers of the various parties involved have been ongoing.
Now, according to TWBC, confirmation has been given by the Co-op ‘that they are happy with the proposals and these are now being worked up for final agreement and sign off by all parties’.

“There are a couple of legal queries still to solve, but we are very, very nearly there,” added Cllr Veitch. “But with all the new houses planned for the borough we need this hall.”

The access rights issue with the Co-op are not the only delays to beset the joint £20m town centre regeneration project.

Previously, TWBC had blocked an attempt to demolish buildings on Stone Street citing potential historical significance, but this ban was lifted once planning permission was approved.

Now that the final hurdle is over, the Parish Council have the task of raising the funds for the community centre, and have struck on an innovative idea.

Cllr Veitch said: “It is just a concept, but the community centre will be on two floors because it will be built on a slope, so we thought about the local GPs having the bottom floor as a medical centre, which would be bring significant contributions from the NHS—but it is just an idea.”

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