Independent commission set up to break theatre deadlock
25th July 2019
THE Town Forum is to investigate the council’s controversial £90million theatre and civic centre development at the edge of Calverley Grounds in the hope it will break the political impasse that has seen the project grind to a halt.
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Town Forum was created in 2005 as a partnership between ward councillors and residents’ representatives and acts as an independent body to address local issues in light of there being no parish council representing the town.
The Forum, which is made up of councillors who represent wards in the town, as well as residents associations, local trading bodies, and business and community groups, has been asked by the borough council to look at its Calverley Square project and possibly any alternative solutions that are put forward.
Current chairman of the Forum, Adrian Berendt, says the council has approached the group to form a ‘commission’ as they are independent and have not yet taken any position on the project.
It is hoped the independent commission might be able to reach a decision on whether the project is beneficial to the town or not, without influence from party political allegiances.
Mr Berendt, confirmed to the Times: “It is early days. We are at the beginning stage.
“As chair of the Town Forum, I have not yet taken a position on the development but we are an independent group.”
The Forum is well used to consulting on council matters. The body already provides several working groups that responds to various council activities such as the annual budget, as well as transport and planning matters.
The commission is being formed as the council remains in a stalemate over Calverley Square. But any findings will not be binding on the council.
Currently, the project is on pause while alternative proposals are put forward and examined.
The council needs to find a solution to the ailing town hall, which is too large and needs a major renovation to ensure it is an adequate space for council officers to work in. The Assembly Hall Theatre also needs redeveloping and is currently subsidised to the tune of £480,000.
Council Leader, Alan McDermott, has said that renovating both existing buildings could cost around £50million, more than twice their asset value.
If no alternative can be found, the council may have no choice but to continue with the Calverley Square project, regardless of its political unpopularity.
At last week’s Full Council meeting, an attempt to scrap Calverley Square was again voted down by councillors, but the Liberal Democrat Group, led by Cllr Ben Chapelard [St James’] managed to secure an assurance from the Cabinet that the project would not be restarted without a Full Council vote taking place first.
However, any vote will be non-binding on the Cabinet, which could overrule the council and press ahead with plans if no alternative is found.