No Southborough panto ‘for next four years’ as RVH plan is delayed

Alex Green

The Royal Victoria Hall is likely to remain closed for up to four years, and the consultation will cost £65,000 more than planned, a Southborough town councillor has claimed.

Cllr Jason Reeves said the Hub project remains ‘secretive’ despite a commitment from the borough and county councils to share information about the project.

Mr Reeves said although it had been ‘promised’ the hall would only be closed for ‘one panto season’, in April, this was optimistic.

He said: “I think it will be four years. The original plan showed work starting by Christmas, with the Hub open for Christmas 2016, but they are already behind schedule by several months.

“Assuming the build takes two years, this means it will be closed for at least three years, if things go well. And the empty Tesco land next to the Hall has been put back on the market.

“A compulsory purchase order could take two years.”

He had further concerns over the costs of drawing up a second set of plans for the hall

One option is for demolition and a complete rebuild, the other for part demolition alongside a refurbishment, which Mr Reeves believes is the most popular among his ward members.

He said: “In July’s council meetings, it was revealed £65,000 more would be required for the refurbishment plans to be added to the public consultation.

“Kent County Council was reluctant to share this – possibly because the refurbishment plan was never really an option.”

KCC officer and project manager Jonathan White confirmed including the refurbishment plans could cost ‘up to’ £65,000 more.

But he was unable to give the total cost of consulting on both plans, stressing that adding a second scheme would not mean doubling the cost.

He also rejected the idea of the refurbishment plan not being a real option.

He said: “I know there are rumours of a preferred option, but I have been working on these two schemes since the beginning of the project as it is what I was told to do.”

He further stated the one-year commitment was for the building only and planning and contracting would add several months, but said the project was unlikely to take four years.

A spokesman for Kent County Council said: “The eventual building works on the community facilities, regardless of which scheme is progressed is likely to take 12 to 18 months. Given the complexity of the project, it should be understood that some flexibility is required on the delivery timescale as related negotiations are not fully within the control of the partner authorities.”

What are the options?

1:  To retain and substantially refurbish the main hall, retaining the stage, but demolishing and replacing other parts of the build.

2: Full demolition and construction of new similar facilities.

Who will decide?

It is intended that a further public consultation will explain the proposals and options for the community buildings, as soon as is practical.

Following the consultation, the decision on which option will be taken by the new project board, consisting of representatives of the three authorities backing the project (Southborough town, Tunbridge Wells borough and Kent county councils. It is anticipated that a planning application could be submitted in spring 2016.

Another view:

Southborough Town Council chairman Glenn Lester said: “I believe that we need to get this project right and if that means taking our time and spending resources where it will really make a difference, that is what I support. The temporary inability for Southborough to host a pantomime is unfortunate, but it is a situation we have to bear as we progress our plans for the community hub – including the facilities for much bigger, more ambitious productions in the future.”

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