Campaigners can save River Lawn by buying it

Greg Clark

OPPONENTS of the sale of River Lawn to property developers are cautiously optimistic after they succeeded in having the site nominated as an Asset of Community Value – but they admit that the move is a ‘last resort’.
The site’s new status means that campaigners have an option to buy the public space if Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council decides to sell.
However, even if the group does manage to raise the necessary funds, the Council does not have to give them preferential treatment over any private company who also decides to bid for the land.
The Barden Residents’ Association (BRA) put in the application two months ago and the council has accepted it.
The next step is that the council’s six–person Cabinet will vote on October 11 to decide if they will sell the site to private developers.
Controversially, the decision will not be made by Full Council – though the leadership insists that its members’ views will be taken into account by Cabinet, along with those of the general public.
The council’s constitution is unusual in that the local authority does not have to put votes of such magnitude to all of its councillors.
If the sale goes ahead, campaigners will have seven and a half months in which to raise the required money, during which time River Lawn cannot be sold.
Mark Hood of the Barden Residents’ Association said: “Basically this is a last resort measure, having to do this. We didn’t want it to get this far.”
He added: “It’s not the norm for a local community to have to safeguard green space from its council. And it isn’t normal to nominate open space through this process.”
Initially BRA have six weeks from the announcement of sale to put together an outline bid and a strategy for how they are going to achieve it. Then they will have a further six months to come up with the funding.
A council spokesperson told the Times: “This six-months period is intended to allow community groups time to raise funding to acquire the asset.
“However, there is no obligation on the part of the owner to agree a sale to that group during that period.
“At the current time, the Borough Council has not taken a formal decision regarding a disposal of the River Lawn site and it would therefore be premature to comment on any further decisions should a full moratorium period be requested.”
Mr Hood said: “This is uncharted territory. As far as we know, the council has never gone down this route before, selling open land that’s within the Tonbridge conservation area.”
“We might try to achieve it through crowdfunding, or there are different organisations like the Plunkett Foundation and the Open Spaces Society,” explains Mr Hood.
In February BRA also successfully nominated the Nelson Arms on Barden Road as an Asset of Community Value when brewers Shepherd Neame wanted to sell it into private ownership.
Eventually they decided to sell it as a pub, and it is due to reopen this autumn.

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