Saturday, 29 January 2011

Tunbridge Wells Civic Complex

The proponents of change are putting their heads above the parapet. The local paper carried two letters each emphasising the need for regeneration if the town is to avoid decline.  I await the knee-jerk, head in the sand reaction of the Aspic Brigade which until now has had the field to itself.

It is about time the self-appointed protectors of the town with their disdain, even contempt, for the needs of future generations, had a run for their money.  Will the post Bullock regime at the town hall have the nerve to stand against the Aspic Brigade or is it going to permit Tunbridge Wells to decay slowly as inevitably it will unless there is regeneration?

Roy Bullock indeed made a mess of public consultation, but his analysis of the needs of the town will be proven to be correct.


I have three major activities to engage in this year.

The first is my role as national campaign coordinator for ACT NOW (Autism Campaigners Together).  We have made huge progress in a very short time and recently met Jon Cruddas MP to discuss our concerns about DWP work assessments.

My second area of activity is to continue as a director of Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource.

Finally, I am promoting a community interest company to tackle food poverty in Kent. Our community interest statement has been accepted by the Regulator and I expect to receive our certificate of incorporation very soon.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Whither the civic complex?

The election of a new leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has done little to clear the murk surrounding the future of the civic complex.

Prior to the election the former leader stated that there would be a referendum on plans regarding the complex and stood by the five commitments the Council had given should a redevelopment be proposed.

  • Provide a theatre at least as good as the Assembly Hall;
  • Provide a more accessible and central museum, library and art gallery;
  • Ensure the police retain a presence in the town;
  • Provide a venue for civic ocasions;
  • Ensure any redevelopment of the Town hall is undertaken to the highest standards of design.
Before his election the new leader stated that the civic complex would not be demolished unless it is what people wanted 'beyond all doubt'. 

Since his election he has stated that he does not subscribe to the 'do nothing' lobby. However, in the Courier newspaper he is quoted thus:

"I would go right back to basics and ask 'is redevelopment necessary for the economic survival of the town?'"

On the five commitments he stated:

"I want to give these five principles significant weight but in the end if we have a project it has to be financially viable because I am quite sure there will not be surplus funding available."

So, the signals from the Town Hall under the new regime are as clear as mud.  All the parties - the do nothing Aspic brigade, those who wish to see the whole site demolished, those who wish to see the facades retained and those who would keep the buildings but changes made to their use, can take some comfort from what the new leader has said, as well as discomfort. 

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Interesting times.

This from the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's website: 

Cllr Atwood said: “I am thrilled and honoured to be elected as Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. The Council has achieved many good things over recent years but I have listened to public concern in recent months in relation to a number of proposed regeneration schemes. I support the aims and objectives of the Regeneration Company, in which the Council is a partner, but I am committed to ensuring that its activities are communicated more widely and that the Council’s involvement is made more transparent. More generally, I will aim to improve public confidence in the Council through wider public consultation, and by making councillors more accountable to those they represent.

I note his support for the aims and objectives of the Regeneration Company and welcome his statement that the company's activities are communicated more widely and that the Council's involvement is made more tranparent.  Does this mean: no changes to the plan but we will tell you more? Those hoping for the ending of the company and a major change from the previous Leader's policies might be disappointed by this.

I understand Cllr Jukes will be re-joining the Regeneration Company's board from which he resigned in spectacular fashion and helped put the skids under the former Leader.

I hope the council is not about to embark on an orgy of consultation which will wear people out.  Call me old fashioned, but accountability is through the ballot-box.

New TWBC Cabinet

At last nights council meeting the new Leader Robert 'Bob' Atwood named his new cabinet.

The main losers are Horwood, Moore and Thomas, although Thomas is expected to be be the next Mayor of Tunbridge Wells and would have had to relinquish her cabinet post in May.

Mayhew has been moved to leisure which some might regard as a demotion.  She will not be filling the role of Deputy-Leader, the post which she resigned when Roy Bullock lost the second vote of confidence.

Barrington-King is staying put.

The biggest gainers are Scholes who takes over the finance portfolio from Horwood and Cunningham who takes over most of the portfolio previous held by Mayhew with the addition of responsibilities for rural matters.  Scholes and Cunningham are former cabinet members.

Ransley makes it to the cabinet for the first time with a planning/transport portfolio.

It is  believed that Jukes will become Deputy-Leader after he completes his term as Mayor.  Another newcomer to the cabinet,  but a long-serving councillor.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Atwood & Co

Unless there is a last minute twist, it is anticipated that Robert 'Bob' Atwood will be elected as the new Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council at tomorrow's full council meeting.

Attention will turn then to his cabinet selection.  The position when Roy Bullock led the Council was:

Mayhew: Deputy Leader (resigned) and housing portfolio 
Horwood:  finance portfolio                                              
Thomas: strategic planning portfolio                                  
Barrington-King: sustainability portfolio                             
Moore: economic development portfolio.                          

The policies and partnerships portfolio was vacant as Cllr Williams departed a while ago.

It will be interesting to see who is appointed to the regeneration company's board.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Rusthall Parish Council Proposal Plods On

A Tunbridge Wells Borough Council committee met in Rusthall last Wednesday and decided to recommend that a parish council be formed in Rusthall.  Should the Council agree to this, elections for the parish council will be held in May this year.

It should not be thought that the proposal for a parish council has been received with unalloyed joy by the locals.  There has been opposition strongly voiced in the local press and at the meeting last Wednesday. However opponents have been out-numbered comfortably by those supporting the formation of a council. The couldn't care less brigade are the clear winners.

Having heard whom some of the likely candidates will be, parish council meetings will be  'must attend' events for those who enjoy unintentional humour, assuming of course the electorate is daft enough to to vote them in.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Atwood to be Council Leader according to reports.

As I stated in my previous post my money was on Atwood to win. Some seem to think that an Atwood win will enable Tunbridge Wells to move forward. But will it? What do we know of Cllr Atwood's stance on regeneration? If the aspic tendency has his ear, then the town will go backwards. Again, some foolishly confuse personalities with policies. My hope is that Atwood will continue Bullock's policies but get the process right.

Let us hope that Cllr Atwood is not one of the 'supine nonentities' referred to by a former Chairman of the Conservative Group

Election excitement mounts

No, not in Old and Sad, but in Tunbridge Wells.  Tonight the Conservative Group meets to elect a person to put forward as Leader of the Council to the next meeting of the Council.

In one corner, Roy Bullock the current Leader who twice has been voted down by the Conservative Group.  In the other corner, Robert 'Bob' Atwood, whose main claim to fame appears to be that he ran a utility company.

My money in on Atwood - God help us!

Monday, 10 January 2011

A County Tale: Resign? Not me!

I have commented before on the scandal of inadequate provision by Kent County Council for the protection of vulnerable children. Last year a damning report was published by OFSTED. Today, KCC's Cabinet met and set out what the Council proposes to do to remedy the position.

The concerns are: why the failure was permitted to develop, that nothing significant was done about it and that no-one feels sufficient shame to resign over the issue. What has happened is a scandal from which no amount of special pleading can absolve those responsible.

One officer is to take voluntary redundancy.  But what of the councillors we elect and expect to run the Council  properly and in particular not to fail  in its duty to vulnerable children?  Not a hint of a resignation.

At one time government ministers felt obliged to resign for failings in their departments, even though the matter on which they resigned had been in the hands of civil servants.  It was regarded as the honourable thing to do.

Unfortunately, now that politics has become a career rather than a matter of public service, self-preservation to ensure careers continue has become the order of the day. Rather than resign the mantra now voiced is along the lines: well we got into this mess on my watch and I am best placed to get us out of it.

In my opinion this is condescending tosh.  It is unacceptable. There should be councillor resignations in KCC.  There won't be of course, the aphrodisiac of power will  persuade them  to stay in post.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Tory in-fighting descends into farce in Tunbridge Wells

Few would dispute that Roy Bullock, Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, is a controversial figure. I was elected to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council the same day as Roy in 1996 and heard and saw him in action for four years at full council meetings and planning meetings.

One certainly knew where Roy stood on proposals; no mealy-mouthed waffle. However he could be blunt to the point of rudeness, although it was more his manner than his intention.

Elections for the position of Leader have been contested since the Leader & Cabinet system replaced the committee system. On one occasion one vote separated three candidates.  Others may be able to discern if the contests were over policy differences within the Conservative Group or about personal ambition.

The current position is unique in the annals of Tunbridge Wells politics, outdoing by a country mile the dissent within the Liberal Democrat Group when it controlled the Council.

Rumblings within the Conservative Party have been heard for some time.  Decisions concerning the future of the former council offices in Cranbrook  led to the emergence of a faction which has gone so far as to deselect the current chairman of the Conservative Group.

In Tunbridge Wells a number of issues, as listed in previous posts, have threads running through them of  lack of public consultation and secrecy, led finally to the Conservative Group approving and ratifying a resolution of no confidence in the Leader.

Instead of resigning, the Leader  has remained in post awaiting the election of a new Leader.  The Deputy Leader of the Council resigned and condemned the leader for not stepping down immediately after the vote of  no confidence.  She argued that whilst his action may be constitutionally legitimate, he had lost  political legitimacy as he did not have the support of a majority of the Conservative Group.  However it is understood the result of the vote was close and it may be it is this that has encouraged Cllr Bullock to soldier on and put himself forward as a candidate at the forthcoming Leadership election.

We know there will be three candidates at the forthcoming election.  There was to have been a fourth, but he withdrew from the fray on the grounds that had there been four candidates the winner of the election might have been elected with only a small number of votes. But, as stated above, at a previous Leader election only one vote separated the three candidates. It could happen again.

Clearly Cllr Bullock still has friends.  A former Conservative councillor has come out strongly in favour of Cllr Bullock and supports his stance on the need for regeneration. He suggests that the successor to Roy Bullock is likely to be a 'supine nonentity'.

So, what will the outcome? Suppose Roy Bullock wins by a narrow margin? All the in-fighting and public self-flagellation by the Conservatives will have been in vain. The other two candidates do not inspire confidence that they will drive through the changes needed to ensure the future economic prosperity of Tunbridge Wells.  The risk is that one of them will be supportive of the aspic, baby boomer creche brigade. One of the candidates has stated that, despite his lack of political experience, he will bring the factions together.  Really. He has stated also that the civic complex will not be demolished unless it is what people want 'beyond all doubt'.  Beyond all doubt? Juries in criminal cases should only bring in a guilty verdict if they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt.  So, is this candidate sending a coded message that regeneration is a non-starter or is it, as I suspect, lack of political experience?

As I have argued before the problem is that concerns about consultation and secrecy have been conflated with the issues surrounding the future economic and social well-being of the Borough.

I cannot help but feel that should Roy Bullock lose his position as Leader, we shall be in for a period of vacillation and compromise which will not be good for the Borough.  The Tories may keep control and pander to the aspic tendency but the citizens will lose out eventually as Tunbridge Wells sinks. The Conservative Group could and should have resolved the Leadership issue months ago.  By their lethargy they condemn themselves, but much more seriously they have given succour to the aspic brigade.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Runners Declared for Leadership Race

My avid reader will note that I had a letter published in the Courier newspaper today.  The letter is based on one of my recent blogs.  Unfortunately it has been overtaken by events as, since it was written, nominations for the Leadership race have closed.

Three candidates have declared.  As I have surmised the current Leader, Roy Bullock, is standing.

One of the candidates, John Cunningham, is a fellow director of mine on the board of Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource Limited. One thing I have in common with these two candidates is that we were all first elected to the Council in 1996.

The third candidate is one of my ward councillors, Robert Atwood who seems to prefer being called 'Bob'. Known to be ambitious, 'Bob' is in his first term as a councillor and clearly has a high opinion of himself judging from his election address.

Who will win?  It is rumoured that the vote of no confidence in the current Leader was close.  Will the fact that John Cunnigham lives in Sandhurst count against him? He is a most engaging person but some may argue that he lacks gravitas.

Will Robert Atwood's lack of experience on the Council, together with his obvious ambition, count against him?

Of course, the great imponderable is what is going on in the minds of the Conservative councillors who will be voting next week. The sad truth is that they permitted the current mess and chaos to develop.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Rusthall Parish Council

From Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's website:

The consultation on the draft proposals for whether or not Rusthall should become a parish closed on 31 December 2010.

The final proposals are now being prepared before being submitted to the Communities and Partnerships Select Committee on 12 January for recommendation. The meeting is being held at the United Reformed Church in Rusthall at 6pm. All residents are welcome to attend the meeting.

The final proposals will then go to Cabinet for recommendation on 10 February, before going to Full Council on 23 February for a final decision.

If full council agree that Rusthall should become a parish and have a parish council, the next step would be to for the Council to make a reorganisation order, a legally binding document. Preparation will then take place to coincide the first parish council election with the Borough election and national referendum taking place on 5 May 2011.

The number of people supporting the establishment of a parish council heavily outweighs the opponents.  The majority of residents have declared no opinion.  23rd February is the date on which the Council will decide whom the Leader of the Council will be and 10th February will  be the current Cabinet's swansong as a new Leader will select his or her own Cabinet members.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year: Blog Refreshed.

Do you like the new appearance of my blog? I chose the flames background but am not sure if I am pouring water or petrol on the fire.

The State and Big Society

This link will take you to a recent report in The Guardian concerning the financial pressures on the voluntary sector.  It shows just how dependent the sector has become on the State: indeed almost an arm of the State.

I have been issuing warnings about this for years -  might as well have been talking to myself! 

The Labour government was only too pleased to annex the sector into the State through not only providing funding for services but also by various other inter-meddling strategies.

The Church and Big Society

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been sounding off again about the Big Society and the input of faith groups to this meaningless concept - meaningless in that it can mean anything. A report on his musings can be found here.

In Kent there existed an organisation by the name of Church in Society.  My avid reader will recall that the organisation was closed down by the Dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester last year.  The new Bishop of Rochester has an interest in social justice matters.

I said at the time Church in Society was dissolved that it was short-sighted, indeed a disgrace. Anglican chickens are coming home to roost.

The Bishop of Leicester has had some pertinent comments to make about the role of the church in the Big Society. This can be found here

All this has to be set in the context of the Big Society concept of moving State activities which are, however tenuously, under democratic control to voluntary organisations which are not .  A further issue is the extent to which voluntary organisations 'chase the funding' so becoming agents of the State in thrall to commissioners of services.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

An uncertain future for Royal Tunbridge Wells

In the centre of Tunbridge Wells are buildings which together form what may be described as the civic complex.  Battle lines are being drawn by those who wish to preserve the buildings and what goes on in them and those who would prefer the buildings to be demolished and the sites re-developed. In between, in no-mans land, are people who wish to preserve the buildings or their facades and are willing to consider new uses for the premises.

The preservation party wishes not only to preserve the buildings but also for existing services to be delivered from them. This position is untenable.
  • The police station building at one time was also the magistrates court.  The court moved many years ago to Sevenoaks. The role of the police station has changed: much of the work has transferred to Tonbridge. The police function could operate from a couple of portakabins.
  • The Assembly Hall is well-used, but it too is in need of a major refit. In Canterbury, the Marlowe Theatre has been demolished and a new theatre will rise from the ashes in 2011. If Canterbury can do it, so can Tunbridge Wells.
  • The Town Hall is far too large and is inappropriate for current and future  needs.
  • The Library and Museum building has drawbacks. Ashford is re-building its Library.
  • The Adult Education Centre may well be on borrowed time as Kent County Council makes deep cuts in its budgets.
There is no reason why all the activities referred to above need to be co-located. Vacant properties abound in Tunbridge Wells  - the former Safeway store site, vacant space is available in the county court building and Union House.

What is not needed is the knee-jerk reaction of the aspic brigade intent on preserving the existing buildings housing existing activity. The Council should be drawing up with partners and stakeholders a strategy which will set out  plan which will ensure the continuation of services in appropriate premises, some or none of which may be on the land currently forming the civic complex. There is a saying: form should follow function. For the aspic brigade form is paramount.

The modernisers party for its part recognises the very fragile nature of the Royal Tunbridge Wells economy.  the alarm bells must be ringing in even the deafest of ears when the threat by a major employer to leave the town causes the Council to withdraw from a cherished policy.

Royal Victoria Place has brought economic benefit to the town and has helped mitigate the 'Bluewater effect'.  A new commercial complex in the centre of Tunbridge Wells would benefit the local economy.  It is of paramount importance that the local economy thrives and it is this which should be in the forefront of the endeavours of the Council, rather than the precious protection of current facilities propounded by the aspic brigade.

One cannot help but think that despite all the plans and policies residing in the Town hall that an opportunity to make the radical changes needed in Tunbridge Wells is slipping away from the Council. The Odeon cinema site, the Safeways site, the soon to be vacant Kent & Sussex Hospital site, Union House, the County Court site and the former DSS buildings together are the key for an ambitious programme of economic regeneration.

Let the debate commence.  Baby boomer creche or thriving town?  No brainer.............