Political’ town planners could block latest hope for Cinema site

Political' town planners could block latest hope for Cinema site

Retirement Villages Group (RVG) has signed an agreement to acquire the 1.5-acre site on Mount Pleasant Road.

The company is owned by AXA IM Real Assets, part of the health insurer group.

RVG intends to develop the former ABC Cinema site into a new retirement community.

Later this year they will hold a public consultation into their plans, and then the company will have to seek planning permission from the Council.

Cllr David Scott, who is also the cabinet’s lead for economic development, is worried opposition councillors in the Town Hall’s planning committee will attempt stop the development for political reasons.

He told the Times: “The planning committee used to be able to get things through relatively easily, but it is very political now.

“It will be hard for the committee to refuse planning permission because it is very similar to the previous development that was granted permission, but it could happen.”

The planning committee consists of 13 members and is representative of the political makeup of the Council, with six Tory councillors, four Lib Dems, two Alliance and one from Labour.

As such, opposition groups could vote down the plans.

In November 2020, the planning committee rejected a £25million motor village by car dealers Hendy that was planned for Pembury.

Councillors on the planning panel blocked the project in favour of a park and ride scheme, even though there are now no plans by the Council to implement one.

Cllr Scott said any alternatives to the proposed ABS site development so far proposed by opposition councillors were ‘impossible’.

“They need to understand the legality of things such as compulsory purchase orders and the economics,” he said. “The Council simply cannot pay £17million for land and then build on it – where would the income come from, what would we build?

“The opposition need to be pragmatic not consumed with wishful thinking and know what will work and what won’t.”



Complex will have more apartments and be greener than the previous developer’s plans

THE new proposals for the former ABC cinema site are similar to the previous developments planned for the site, but with 50 per cent more apartments and less retail space.

Elysian Residences, which pulled out of developing the land in September 2020, had hoped to bring into fruition existing planning permission for the site that would allow for around 108 apartments, as well as shops, a restaurant and a boutique cinema.

The plans had been first drawn up by previous owners Altitude.

But Elysian reassessed the £80million Belvedere development during the Covid pandemic and abandoned its plans due to it no longer being economically viable.

The company is now building a similar £55million complex at the site of the former Arriva bus depot on St John’s Road that will have 89 apartments.

Retirement Villages Group (RVG) has now redesigned the site to include far more apartments, as it was understood that previous developers could not make their plans pay due to the cost of land – which was on the market at £17million.

There will be between 150 and 180 apartments on the site – 50 per cent more than in the Belvedere development.

Plans for the cinema have also been scrapped, although RVG are expected to create a central square for use by the public.

The increase in apartments also means the units are expected to be more affordable to buyers, which RVG believes will make them more attractive to current Tunbridge Wells residents.

The development will also be green, with a ‘whole life net zero carbon’ commitment to ensure not only will the building not only account for the CO2 when it is built, but also during the construction process.

Will Bax, CEO of Retirement Villages Group, said: “We are excited to create a community that delivers on our vision for the future of retirement living; integrated, active and sustainable.

“We’re eager to find more sites like this as we push towards our goal of developing a further 5,000 homes by 2030.

“This project also reinforces our commitment to minimising our impact on the planet as a net zero carbon developer and operator.

“We are determined to drive greater collaboration and seek new partnerships as we all respond to the challenge of the climate emergency.”



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