New move to ‘drive town forward’ after theatre project is abandoned

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Councillors last week voted overwhelmingly against the Calverley Square project. They even came out against the idea of any theatre in Tunbridge Wells.

Following voting at the Full Council there was a meeting of some 30 business leaders that recognised that walking away from Calverley Square would send the wrong message to developers looking to invest in the town.

The Times understands that some major developers are now reluctant to put money into a community that can repeatedly vote in favour of a project only to pull the plug at the last minute, wasting more than £10million of taxpayers’ money already paid out.

At the meeting of business leaders there was general agreement to create a commercial group to look at ways to ‘collectively proceed’ with relevant projects.

CEO of Southpaw advertising agency Tom Poynter told the Times: “The decision not to proceed with Calverley Square was a real missed opportunity in building a future part of the jigsaw puzzle that would have created a picture of vibrancy for future generations. 

“What was more abhorrent was the behaviour of some of the protesters both physically and online claiming how councillors would fare if they voted in favour of Calverley Square. 

 “The online trolls who thought it was a safe place to attack supporters of the project were vile, disgusting and hurtful to many people.”

Looking ahead Tom Poynter said: “We now find ourselves facing a huge challenge in defining the future. We need a vision that clearly identifies our town’s offer and how we wish to be known. We need a new brand image that unites our local communities, builds culture, drives growth and inspires future generations.

“I remain positive about our town’s future, but it is time for businesses to make a stand and start taking a leadership position in creating a step change.”


Group would add another dimension

The CEO of Tek Seating Paul Fleming asked: “Is there general agreement that investment in Tunbridge Wells is a good thing ? I think there is, if so should that investment come from public funds, private funds or a combination. Clearly there is strong resistance to public funds being used in the case of Calverley Square but I suspect there would also be resistance to possible future developments using private funds and a commercial platform as this would no doubt be seen by some as business profiteering from the town’s assets.

“The conflict and difference of opinion over the Calverley Square development has been extremely divisive but with one common factor, both sides want what they think is best for Tunbridge Wells, they just want very different things.

He added: “The suggestion at the meeting [of business leaders] was that getting local business more involved as a group would add another dimension to the debate for the future development of the town, which is not such a bad idea.”


Together we are stronger

Corin Thoday the CEO of Targetfollow that owns The Pantiles said: “We are firmly of the belief that the future of Tunbridge Wells can be strengthened through business, community, and public bodies all working together for the prosperity of all. 

“This way of working has proven successful at The Pantiles, where enlivenment through events put on in conjunction with our partners has transformed the area and created an environment where people want to live, shop, work and unwind. We do not take sole credit for the success of this, as it involved input from many others. 

“For this success to be replicated across the whole of the town requires the cooperation of all stakeholders.  We therefore commend all efforts to get the business community working on broader initiatives, whether through media, the BID, Royal Tunbridge Wells Together or new forums.  Together we are stronger!”


We need a landmark building

Hotel owner Julian Leefe-Griffiths, the driving force behind many events on The Pantiles, said: “While I’m sure a good many people in the town are very pleased that the theatre project is not going ahead in its current form, there would also be many people who are concerned about the town’s stagnation and lack of investment.”

He believes the town does need a landmark building.

“Such a site should be capable of holding multi-format productions,” he explained. “This would include not only theatre and opera but commercial shows, conferencing, sports events and music.

“We now have a great opportunity to build a multipurpose venue that could be of real benefit to the town and hopefully not as divisive as the last plan.”

Mr Leefe-Griffiths said it was important that there was cross party political support for any project and that it was clearly presented to the town’s residents and businesses.

“Tunbridge Wells really does need to invest in the town’s infrastructure and amenities,” he said. “If we choose to do nothing while other towns invest we will really put the town into reverse.”


We need to find a solution or risk businesses leaving

Rob Young CEO at Infinity Group said: “Like many other towns around the country Tunbridge Wells’ high street is struggling and needs to rediscover its identity.

“In addition to this commercial office space has become non-existent further reducing the footfall. 

“As a business Infinity Group have had to build our own offices this year just to remain in the town and with future growth planned we need to find a solution or risk businesses like ours leaving for good.

“Now is the time for the town to invest and look at new ways of attracting people to work and live.

“With regards to the Calverley Square project, it would appear that politics yet again has got in the way and the meeting of local businesses is a positive step in the right direction that will hopefully see the town transform into a cultural hub for business and the arts, attracting the creative talent we desperately need to grow our business.”

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