‘Value engineering’ forces re-think of Southborough Hub design

Gatwick Campaigners

THE Southborough Hub and theatre will not be built with its original eye-catching design due to cost cutting.

Councillors have been told that ‘value engineering’ has led to the rounded glass and copper frontage, revealed with initial plans in 2015, being scrapped.

Instead, new contractor Baxall Construction will present a more cost efficient design later this year.

Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Southborough Town Council are jointly behind the project, which is now likely to cost several million pounds, but less than the £30million previously stated.

The hub will contain a 350-seat theatre, to replace the now-demolished Royal Victoria Hall, as well as council meeting rooms, a medical centre, a retail unit and a cafe.

Land near the old theatre has been sold to housebuilder Crest Nicholson in a deal which will help fund the project.

The plan has proved controversial in Southborough with residents and councillors unhappy about the loss of Royal Victoria Hall and playing field space.

Opponents raised further concerns last November when the town council voted to subject the plans to ‘value engineering’, at the request of Kent County Council.

Paddock Wood-based Baxall met with town council members last week and said they were looking at ways to best deliver the hub within the budget.

Cllr Ian Kinghorn, part of the council’s ruling Conservative group, said plans for the theatre and other facilities will not be altered.

‘It will still be in the original piece of land and the footprint will be the same, but the appearance will be rejigged,’ he told the Times.

‘Baxall will value engineer designs and will be ready to present them in two or three months. The original designs would have cost too much.

‘It is all about coming up with thinking outside the box and with better ideas.’

The councillor said the final cost of the hub cannot yet be revealed. As part of the project, remaining football pitches are to be modified to increase the playing area.

Cllr Kinghorn said initial works are set to begin this autumn with the original target of opening in summer 2020 still achievable.

Planning permission will need to be sought for the new design.

Cllr Nicholas Blackwell of the authority’s Labour group welcomed the ‘realistic’ move to change the design, but expressed frustration that the original hub has already gone through the planning process.

He said: ‘In a previous council meeting Cllr Kinghorn described the original building proposal as being ‘dead in the water’.

‘Residents will question why time and money has been wasted putting a design that will now not be built through the planning process.

‘They will now spend a period of three months looking at further cost cutting measures.

‘We strongly urge the council to consult with the people of the town and learn from their past mistakes.’

He added: ‘From what we have seen Baxall have a proven track record and we welcome that it is a local firm.

‘It is a shame they had not come in 18 months ago.’

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