War of words as multimillion pound car park scheme crashes

Tunbridge Wells Retreat hotel

Plans to include a £17million underground car park in the new civic complex are almost certain to be ditched as the proposals also came under fire from a former council leader.

Roy Bullock, who served on the council for 16 years, and was Leader until 2010, last week suggested the Cabinet had performed ‘a massive U-turn’ on the issue and had ‘abandoned’ plans for the Calverley Grounds car park.

His intervention was described as ‘rather sad’ and ‘borne of ignorance’ by the current Leader, Cllr David Jukes.

A council spokesman said ‘alternative car parking solutions’ are being explored.

Hitting out at his former colleagues, Mr Bullock suggested borough council taxpayers would be ‘delighted’ by the change of direction.

He said: “I do not understand how this project ever got past the Conservative group. To contemplate spending at least £17million, repayable over 50 years, with such a poor return that it would take 43 years to pay back – well, as one financially intelligent councillor is recorded as saying, ‘it is a folly’.”

Accusing the council of hampering economic growth in the borough with ‘swingeing increases in car parking charges’ in order to raise revenue for the ‘folly’ he added:

“It is a classic example of indirect taxation, and will not hit the wealthy of the borough but the low-paid office staff and shop workers who travel from long distances and also impact on its economic viability.”

Mr Bullock, who was forced to relinquish his leadership of the council following a vote of no confidence by his own Conservative colleagues, went on to question their capability to ‘exercise financial control’, and said the entire scheme should be put to a referendum.

His criticism of the current administration was condemned by Cllr Jukes.

He said: “Having seen what the former Leader of the Council Roy Bullock is saying, I find it rather sad that someone who had such intimate knowledge of what was going on in the council for four years now has to criticise the present administration.

“His comments are borne out of ignorance of the facts. All the information has been made available to, and supported by, the Conservative group, and has been endorsed by Full Council.

“Finally, if when I am no longer Leader I find the time to write to the paper to criticise what the current administration is doing, please put my letter straight in the bin.”

In response to enquiries regarding the proposed car park, a council spokesperson said: “No firm decisions have been taken, but we have questions about the technical side of developing a car park under Calverley Grounds adjacent to the Great Hall car park.

“We share the concerns that have been expressed about the costs and environmental impact of doing this, and with these things in mind we have asked our consultants to explore alternative car parking solutions.”

The council is currently committed to redeveloping the Mount Pleasant Avenue car park adjacent to Calverley Grounds into a 50,000 sq ft office complex, designed to house both the authority and commercial businesses.

As part of these proposals, the council is also exploring the idea of building a new theatre on the site of the Great Hall car park. The idea was to make up for the loss of parking by adding more capacity underground. In total, the entire scheme is expected to cost around £67million.

The council say the scheme is needed as the current Town Hall premises are no longer suitable, while the £10million needed to refurbish and upgrade the site is not cost-effective.


The alleged ‘U-turn’ over the development of a new car park next to Calverley Grounds was not the only backtracking by the council last week on the issue of parking.

Plans to sell off the Linden Park Road car park next to The Pantiles for redevelopment, a move which will result in the loss of 37 spaces, look set to be ‘deferred’.

At a meeting of the Cabinet Advisory Board, Council Leader David Jukes recommended the delay after members of the committee failed to agree with the report’s recommendations.

Although not binding on the Cabinet, as the delay is at the behest of the Leader of the party, it is unlikely to be ignored.

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