Southborough Hub deal saved as Greg Clark intervenes

As reported in last week’s Times, NHS bosses had been threatening to withdraw £4.2million of funding for a new medical centre to be based at the mixed-use development.

Southborough Town Council [STC] had been pushing the health service to pay a ground rent on the proposed medical facility, something the NHS said was ‘flawed’, ‘inappropriate’ and not ‘value for money for the public purse’.

Following last week’s news, Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, called all stakeholders together for a meeting on Wednesday night [July 31].

The former Business Secretary managed to broker a deal that saw town councillors finally accept the NHS’ offer.

Tonight [Wednesday] an Extraordinary Full Council meeting will ratify the deal and the Southborough Hub project will get the go-ahead, four years after the original plans were drafted.

Since it was first proposed, the Hub has been subject to a number of controversies and delays, not least the scaling down of the project from the original £30million design.

Town Councillor and Labour lead on the project, Neil Blackwell, said: “Greg Clark has been fantastic. He facilitated a meeting with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Kent County Council [KCC] and we went through our concerns, which were around the lack of ground rent from NHS England.”

He said that the biggest issue for STC was the external maintenance liability that would have seen the council responsible for any work on the medical centre through the NHS’ 63-year lease.

“In 30 years’ time if that medical centre needed a new roof, for instance, we as a town council would have been liable for a bill that could be as much £1million. For a council whose annual precept is only £500,000, it could have bankrupted us,” he explained.

He said that KCC has promised to ‘step-in’ if the town council faced such a hefty maintenance bill in the future.

He continued: “We will now write to the NHS and confirm we will be accepting their offer.”

MP Greg Clark, who only last month moved to the back benches after nearly ten years in government, said he was ‘alarmed’ when he heard the news that the replacement medical centre for St Andrews Surgery, which is set to close in 2021, could be lost along with the football pavilion, library and hall. If the deal fell through.

He said: “I was pleased to be able to bring people together to broker a solution in time for the deadline and I am pleased we were able to break the deadlock.

“The whole community wants these facilities to be built without delay and I hope that it will now be full steam ahead.”

He added that he would now write to NHS England and the Secretary of State for Health drawing their attention to the agreement.

Tanya Shaw, Business Manager at St Andrews Medical Centre, said she was ‘delighted’ on behalf of the surgery’s 9,000 patients.

She added: “I feel immense relief that it is now going ahead. It has given us restored vigour and we are very much looking forward to developing new services we can put out to our patients.”

Tunbridge Wells Youth Football Club who had feared the end of the team if the clubhouse failed to materialise, said it ‘welcomed the good news’.

Opposition councillors were also pleased.

Cllr Ian Kinghorn [Conservative], who until the last local election had been the lead on the project, thanked the Times for its coverage of the stalemate between the NHS and STC.

He said: “There is no doubt your story in Wednesday’s edition broke the news to the public by drawing attention to what was actually going on in Southborough regarding the Hub. This led to lots of people voicing their concerns and opposition to what was happening.”

He continued: “With acceptance of the NHS grant, the project to build a new community facility, including the medical centre and football pavilion can move forward, albeit two months later than the originally agreed Conservative plan which would have had seen work begin in July.”

Cllr Alan Bullion from the Southborough Liberal Democrats also welcomed the deal, he said: “We are pleased that a solution can be reached to ensure that Southborough will have its medical centre as part of the Hub.

“These health services are vital for all local people and patients. This is why the Lib Dems voted against any further delay and for the building work to commence as soon as possible.”

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