Public vote is ignored as community centre finally gets the green light
1st February 2019
TOWN councillors in Paddock Wood have been criticised for ignoring a public vote that showed residents were not in favour of plans to build a community centre on a patch of green land.
The council spent £5,000 on a parish poll to get the views of local residents on 21 January, which returned 409 votes against the development on Memorial Field, and 357 in favour.
Following the vote, councillors were wary about disregarding the decision, with Cllr Ray Moon, Vice Chair for Planning and Environment at Paddock Wood Town Council (PWTC) telling the Times: “We have to be wary. We ignore a public vote at our peril.”
But in a meeting held on the Monday after the vote, PWTC voted in favour of continuing with the project, despite fierce local opposition to the £2.8million community centre being built on the earmarked site.
“The poll was not dismissed, it was taken into account,” responded Cllr Ray Moon from PWTC.
“It was only consultative and we felt that it was not conclusive either way as only 13 per cent voted in the community.
“But it was not an easy decision to make.”
He said the main reason for the decision to go against the parish poll was the threat of losing some of the money earmarked for the project by developers of new housing projects – so called Section 106 contributions.
“We had the chief executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, William Benson, come to the meeting and he said there was a risk we’d lose some of the money if we threw the dice and looked for somewhere else. The thing is, we need a community centre. I’ve lived here all my life and we have never had one,” said Cllr Moon.
Opponents to the scheme were left furious following the town council decision.
Cllr Rodney Atkins stormed out of the meeting, taking to Twitter to voice his disgust. “I am horrified at the town council tonight. I walked out along with two other councillors.”
Later, he told the Times: “I am hugely disappointed for the people of Paddock Wood. They were given the chance to have their say – everybody had a chance to vote – and they have not been listened to.”
Campaigners from Friends of Memorial Field, a protest group set up to oppose the development, said they were ‘frustrated’ with the town council’s decision but have vowed to ‘continue on’.