Accusations fly as heated debate precedes Tunbridge Wells Civic Complex approval

Pam Mills

PLANS to build the £90million Civic Complex and theatre in Tunbridge Wells on land bordering Calverley Grounds remain divisive as Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] approved its Supplementary Planning Documents [SPD].

With members having voted 30 to 13 in favour of advanced plans at a meeting in December, the approval of these planning files was routine business at a meeting on Wednesday [February 21].

But the vote was preceded by a heated exchange between Robert Chris, chairman of pressure group TW Alliance, and Cllr Tracy Moore, Cabinet Member for Civic Development. It came during the ‘questions from the public’ stage.

Dr Chris said that department store Hoopers, whose car park could be compromised by the complex, had said they had not been in discussions with TWBC.

He said this was ‘at odds’ with Cllr Moore’s claim that ‘negotiations are ongoing’ and then asked her if Hoopers had lied, if she had lied, or if she had been misinformed.

Cllr Moore responded: “I am really disappointed the debate is being conducted in these terms.

“I do understand the different points of view but it is wholly inappropriate to make these kinds of allegations.

“We can debate the facts without descending into these deliberately provocative and personal attacks.

“Of course I haven’t lied. The council is not in a position to comment on statements made by third parties. Appropriate discussions have been held.

“You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.”

Dr Chris then said that ‘no discussions had taken place’, Cllr Moore responded and claimed ‘this is an example of misogyny’ and ‘you are a bully’.

Later, Dr Chris added: “Cllr Moore chose to misinterpret this question as a statement alleging that I was accusing her of being a liar which, of course I was not.

“I have no basis for making a statement that would clearly be defamatory in the absence of evidence. I was just asking whether there was any evidence.

“Cllr Moore went on to accuse me of a number of things that had nothing to do with the points I was making.”

The Supplementary Planning Documents were passed by a show of hands.

Alliance leader’s request denied…

Even before the planning debate got underway there were tensions between the opposing sides.

TW Alliance chair Dr Robert Chris thought he might be too ill to attend the debate. He said he was currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and would have preferred to have had his questions to the council read out by a friend on his behalf but was told by Mayor Julia Soyke this was not possible.

He told the Times: “This heartless and ill-considered decision is more likely to be a political move to minimise the challenges from my questions and the supplementary questions I had planned.”

After he raised this point during the meeting, Cllr Tracy Moore said: “You were told by this council we would reply to your questions in writing and that the answers would appear in the minutes if you were unable to attend.”

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