Southborough Hub project to proceed despite Sport England setback

Paul Apps Benenden Hospital

The formal objection to the Southborough Community Hub project submitted by Sport England on Monday (September 26) was ‘expected’ and unlikely to prevent it moving forward, those backing the scheme claim.

It comes after the organisation, which has statutory powers to protect sports fields, criticised plans to sell off part of the Ridgewaye playing fields for housing development in order to fund the hub project.

In documents submitted on the Tunbridge Wells planning website, Sport England said the development would ‘prejudice’ use of the playing fields while it was ‘not clear’ who would provide for a new pavilion to replace the one which will get demolished.

They also state they have been in consultation with Kent Football Association who ‘strongly object’ to the proposal and ‘note’ that the borough of Tunbridge Wells has an: “under-provision of quality sports pitches and ancillary facilities – many of which are dated, and compromised.

It adds: “The loss of so many grass pitches will have a significant negative impact not least to the club in first instance but also the overall supply in an area where demand is high.”

Planning authorities will be minded to take the objection on board.

While they can still press ahead and give the green light for the Southborough Community Hub to be built, their decision will now be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit.

This unit answers to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, who could end up making the final decision on whether or not the scheme can go ahead.

However, the hub’s project leader at Southborough Town Council, Glenn Lester, said the Sport England’s objection ‘not terminal’ for the project’s prospects.

“Whenever any developer uses land which is classed as sports fields Sport England are always going to object, so this was always expected. We knew they were never going to support it.”

He believes the planners will be ‘mindful’ of the objection but ultimately will take a ‘common sense’ approach and give the go-ahead.

In addition, he refuted claims that there was no clarity on the provision of a new pavilion, stating ‘most’ of the funding would come from the proceeds of the sale, while the FA may provide additional funding if they wish to expand on the existing plans.

Mr Lester’s views were echoed by the hub’s project manager at Kent County Council, Jonathan White, who said: “Sport England are statutory consultees and we have been in consultation with them throughout the life of the project. Their objection was not unexpected and will be fully considered.”

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