Council Leader reveals key points of proposed five-year plan for Borough

Ben Chapelard

“EVERY time I leave school and I’m in town or out and about in the Borough, I get really excited about the potential of this place. This could be the best middle-sized town in the country to live in, if we get it right,” says Council Leader and Kent schoolteacher Ben Chapelard as he exclusively discusses Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s (TWBC) proposed five-year draft strategic plan with the Times.

The draft plan for 2024-2029 comes after a consultation of over 1,500 Tunbridge Wells residents last summer and follows a Councillor convention which brought together Councillors from across the local county, Borough, town, and parish councils.

The six-week consultation period began on February 2, and residents of Tunbridge Wells Borough have until March 15 to give their opinion.

Policies in councils’ local plans are expected to be reviewed every five years to assess whether they need updating in order to fulfil the changing needs of any given borough.

Talking to the Times last week, Mr Chapelard explained that the proposed new strategic plan for 2024-2029 will cover five key areas.

They are: sustainable growth, environment, community wellbeing, a vibrant economy and climate action. Speaking on the latter, Ben Chapelard reveals the aim is to prioritise efforts towards a greener future and that ‘climate action underpins everything we do.’

TWBC has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Explaining his commitment to eco action Mr Chapelard said: “It’s pretty obvious that the clock’s ticking, there’s an existential threat to us and we can’t wait on the government to decide whether we’re going to tackle it or not.

“In April, TWBC will be trialling its use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), as a more sustainable fuel alternative for bin lorries in the Borough.

He added that without additional financial support, other means of reaching timely carbon neutrality will be tough.

The Council’s commitment to carbon action feeds into its second goal of protecting and enhancing nature and heritage, alongside promoting safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchair users.

The Council currently has plans to develop a cycle route from Tunbridge Wells to Rusthall to allow residents greener and safer alternatives for travelling into town.

As the Times has previously reported, The Town Hall is also undergoing refurbishment to develop its coworking space and improve the building’s energy efficiency whilst providing new opportunities for businesses to develop in the town centre.

Thoughtful housing and retail development is fundamental to delivering two other pledges – sustainable growth and a vibrant economy – across the Borough.

“It’s about making sure we build the right housing, the settlements, in the right places, for the right needs of residents,” Mr Chapelard said.

As the Times has also reported, The Council recently voted for the provision of Section 106 (S106) money for a large development in Hawkhurst, which includes affordable housing for local people.

Under the Council’s new local plan, 40 per cent of any new housing developments must provide affordable property.

The Times can now exclusively report that TWBC intends to purchase 16 sustainable homes that will be used to house Ukrainian and Afghan families in the Borough.

Mr Chapelard explained that when these families return home, the properties will then be placed back in the Council’s general housing stock.

The Council Leader has big aspirations for retail development too, with goals of creating new jobs and retail offerings, further enlivening the Borough’s nightlife.

“One of the reasons that we bought Royal Victoria Place (RVP) is because we believe that town and village centres can compete with the internet. We’ve just got to adapt those centres for the digital age,” he explained.

For Mr Chapelard, RVP has huge potential as a space which could host a real range of resources, including a cinema. While he was unable to share specifics, he clearly has major plans for the town centre in the years to come.

The Council Leader was clear that the town needs more financial support from central government if it is going to meet its full potential.


He explained that while TWBC is set to present a balanced budget this week, it also faces new park, waste, and leisure centre budgets in three years’ time that will open a £5million gap for the Council.

“What worries me, is all the landmarks we’ve got – St John’s Sports Centre, The Assembly Hall, The Amelia Scott, these are things that bring the community together but they’re all under threat because the Government is not funding us properly.”

TWBC is also holding a public consultation for VISION 2040, the drafted long-term plan for the town centre. Consultations for the plan will close on April 15, with more information available from the Council’s website.

The consultation for The Draft Strategic Plan 2024-29 is open now until March 15 at:

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