Saturday, 28 July 2012

Courier publishes letter

The local newspaper in Tunbridge Wells (The Courier) published today a letter I submitted on the future of the civic complex in Tunbridge Wells.  Based on this blog post:

The editor decided to omit the first paragraph.

My reason for submitting the letter is to generate a debate about the future of the civic complex in particular and more generally, about the development of leisure, cultural and educational activities in Tunbridge Wells.  the Town Plan Advisory Panel's report proposes that the citizens of Tunbridge Wells should make do with inferior facilities.  The debate should be about what is needed, not what can be achieved by upgrading existing buildings.

Canterbury City Council grasped the nettle: the existing theatre was demolished and replaced by a venue of which the people of the city may be proud.   Refurbishment and alterations to the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells would leave the town saddled with a building markedly inferior to the new Marlowe Theatre.

It will not meet the declared objective of the Panel to:

Position the town as the cultural heart of West Kent and East Sussex (the west Kent 
equivalent to Canterbury in the East)

I acknowledge that a case can be made for retaining the facade at the main entrance to the Town Hall and the frescos on the other buildings which make up the civic complex, but as to the rest, sweep it away, let the demolition ball do its work.

What is needed is a debate on the future use of the site of the civic complex, not a  debate limited to the merits of the buildings.  There should be a debate about the activities that should be located on the site and the premises that will be needed to fulfil the aspiration of the Panel that the town should be 'the cultural heart of West Kent and East Sussex'.

The question needs to be asked: does the local population buy in to the cultural objective?  Are there other matters which need to be considered?  Obviously there are and I noted in today's Courier an editorial berating the Council for lack of joined up thinking on homelessness and its decision to evict the Soup Bowl.

I saw little, if anything,  in the Panel's deliberations concerning the needs of the poorer sections of the Tunbridge Wells community.  What is needed in Tunbridge Wells is a proper market, not just the farmers' market.  Some of the aspic brigade would be aghast at the very idea that provision should be made in the heart of Tunbridge Wells  for a market.

So, what are the drivers for change in Tunbridge Wells and how will the Council respond?   The views of all sections of the community should be heard, only then should decisions be taken on the buildings which are necessary to enable aspirations to be fulfilled.  

The political debate one hopes will not be conducted along the lines Harold Macmillan's observation:

Political argument is rarely hindered by ignorance.

So far the aspic brigade and its fellow-traveller councillors have made the running.  I await replies to my letter, but with little confidence that there will be a genuine debate.  My fear is that the pro inertia forces are well marshaled and will prevail.  At least I have put my head above the parapet.

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