Tunbridge Wells misses out on chance for a ‘grown-up’ night spot

The Pantiles Tunbridge Wells Past Plans

Plans to create ‘a real game changer’ on The Pantiles with the opening of a private members’ club, complete with restaurant and bar, have fallen through, the Times can reveal.

The news comes in the same week that the empty Heritage Centre site on The Pantiles has been put back on the market. Earlier this year plans to develop it as a Curzon cinema also collapsed.

Both sites are on the Lower Pantiles, which is owned by the Marquess of Abergavenny through the Nevill Estate.

Alexander Proud, founder of one of the most recognised venue operators in the country, has spoken of his regret that his plans to open a new club did not come to fruition.

His company, Proud Group, runs the eponymous photography galleries in Chelsea, Camden Town and the Strand – alongside two further galleries outside of the capital plus a nightclub and three cabaret venues.

He had wanted to start the development at 51 The Pantiles, formerly the Masala Indian restaurant, next spring and was planning to invest up to half a million pounds in the project.

Despite reaching heads of agreement with the Nevill Estate after two years of talks, the deal fell through due to a further delay in starting.

Mr Proud, a former Tonbridge School pupil, explained that this came about due to his company’s purchase of Stanmer House in Brighton from Whiting and Hammond and the need to divert time and resources towards that project.

However, Mr Proud spoke of his frustration that the process had taken two years in the first place, especially as the initial delay was ultimately caused by the failed attempt to house a Curzon cinema in the neighbouring Corn Exchange.

He said it was ‘a real shame’ to come so close as he believes Tunbridge Wells is crying out for such a venue.

“We almost signed two years ago and then the big cinema deal got in the way, and we had to wait behind it, which was frustrating to say the least.

“And now we have reached heads agreement [with the Nevill Estate], but our timing was off as I just took over Stanmer House.”

The Pantiles Tunbridge Wells Past Plans
Past Plans – The Heritage Centre would have been a cinema

Mr Proud made clear he has an extremely good relationship with the Marquess of Abergavenny, adding the estate had a ‘great vision’ for The Pantiles.

But he described the decision not to wait for the Proud Group to be ready as ‘a mistake’.

“This would have been a real game changer for The Pantiles.

“A national brand with credibility, and huge demand in Tunbridge Wells for a grown-up restaurant and bar to have fun in until late without all the kids that frequent some of the other later venues.

“I grew up in Tunbridge Wells and it was a dreadful, dull, violent place. But now Brighton costs so much, all the cool people who once went there are coming to towns like Tunbridge Wells, and there is a huge gap in the market to cater for them.”

The 4,736 sq ft property that is Number 51 has a per annum lease available of £50,000 and a business rate value of £38,250.

However, despite the setback the property is back under offer.

Although the identity of the potential leaseholder has not been disclosed, Rupert Farrant, founder of chartered surveyors Durlings which is listing the company, said the venue ‘would not be another restaurant’.

The Heritage Centre, which used to house A Day At The Wells – the historical tourist attraction which depicted Tunbridge Wells during the Georgian era – until its closure in 2004, has also been listed by estate agent Durlings in the past week.

Options for this site include either an agreed rental arrangement for ‘a term of years’ or the sale of a 105 year lease with a peppercorn rent.

Forming the rear section of the Corn Exchange, and bordering onto the Sussex Mews, planning and listed building consent is still available for a three screen cinema with a capacity of 289 seats and an associated cafe or bar facility on the site.

However, Mr Farrant said there had been ‘a lot of interest’ in the building as it can be used for many purposes.

He added: “Because it is has D2 planning consent there are a range of options for what can be done with the place. It can be used for assembly, health or leisure.”

The majority of those showing an interest were not looking at purchasing the 105 year lease but were after a shorter arrangement, he said.

Examples of what a building classified as D2 can be used for include Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or area for indoor or outdoor sports and recreations.

Nevill Estate has owned the Lower Panties and Corn Exchange since 2012 but this section of popular promenade has often been overshadowed by the Upper Pantiles, which is owned by developer Targetfollow.

But the area maintains great potential, said Matt Sankey, who heads the Association of Pantiles Traders, although he believes substantial investment is needed to make it work.

He said: “It is a shame the cinema project never materialised. The Heritage Centre is an impressive site but it is enormous and will take a large chunk of investment from a large firm.

“We would like to see another leisure facility there to draw more people to this part of town.”

No one from the Nevill Estate was available for comment.

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