Anti-Calverley Square councillor admits he was in favour of theatre
26th June 2019
A ROW broke out last week following the Extraordinary Full Council meeting on the £90million theatre and civic centre development, after a key opponent to the project claimed he was misquoted by the Leader of the borough council.
During last week’s meeting, in which councillors voted 24-20 to put Calverley Square on hold until alternative proposals have been discussed, council Leader Alan McDermott read out a statement by the now Tunbridge Wells Alliance councillor, Nicholas Pope.
Cllr McDermott said back in March 2016 during a Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum meeting, before Nicholas Pope was elected a councillor, he had been in favour of the new theatre’s location.
He told the packed council chamber that Cllr Pope, who was at the time chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds, had said in a statement to the Forum: “The proposed new theatre on the site of the Great Hall car park initially sounds like a good location for a new theatre. It will be near to the new civic offices and close to the railway station and the theatre would remain in the centre of town.”
Subsequent to the Town Forum meeting and before Mr Pope was elected councillor of Park ward in May 2018, his wife bought a flat at Grove Hill House.
The flat, which is indirectly affected by the proposed Calverley Square development, has prevented Cllr Pope from voting on or debating the subject due to ‘pecuniary interests’.
However, after the Full Council meeting last week, in which Cllr Pope had to listen to proceedings from an adjoining room, he insisted he had never said the words attributed to him by the council Leader and that Cllr McDermott had ‘fabricated’ the statement in an effort to ‘discredit’ him.
He wrote on Twitter: “I did not say those words.”
He went on to ask his followers: “It would be very helpful if residents raised complaints about the ‘quote’ used in the Extraordinary Full Council Meeting which was clearly fabricated to discredit me.”
He claimed what he had told the Town Forum meeting was: “[The] Friends group welcomed plans that would enhance Calverley Grounds and the immediate area, any development on or nearby the boundary needed, they felt, to be sympathetic to the historic, grade II listed park.”
After several days of acrimony, in which Cllr Pope demanded that the Leader of the council issue a full apology, the representative for Park ward was forced to back-pedal.
On Monday [June 24] he admitted that he had found his original statement to the Town Forum and he did indeed say the words attributed to him by the Leader of the council.
He said: “I can confirm that the words that Cllr Alan McDermott used were in the document; however, there were many concerns in the document.
“Friends of Calverley Grounds were trying to be positive about the proposed scheme, but were also concerned about the impact on the park, the park keeper’s lodge, and impact on the views. We did not have full details at the time.”
He later told the Times: “I spoke up against the Civic Development as chairman of the Friends of Calverley Grounds, not in a personal capacity.
“It was a coincidence that my wife was looking to purchase a flat at the same time and a flat that met her criteria came onto the market in Grove Hill House.
“I told her it would make my life difficult, but I was not going to stop her.”
Cllr Pope has denied any assertion he has changed his mind over the location of the theatre since his wife bought the Grove Hill House flat.
No talks without assurances say Liberal Democrats
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have told the Leader of the council there can be no cross-party talks unless he agrees to give Full Council a final say on the project.
Leader of the Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats, Ben Chapelard, said: “Whilst we welcome Cllr McDermott’s offer to work cross-party, we need to see the new Leader deliver on his initial statements with action.
“We Liberal Democrats are concerned that Cabinet can ignore the wishes of Full Council especially as cabinet voted against the motion giving all councillors a vote before the building stage works.
“We also want a clear guarantee that all spending on the project has stopped and a full report is made available to councillors and residents on the council’s liabilities for this project.”
He added that there can be no further discussions about cross-party co-operation on Calverley Square unless the Leader of the council gives Full Council the final say.