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Challenges and Opportunities

Thank you to everyone who attended our Autumn Lunch at The Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells. It was a great opportunity to catch-up with established contacts and meet some new ones too.

Thank you also to our guest speaker, Cllr Alan McDermott, Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC).

Following a welcome from Chamber Director, Shane Raggett from Broadlands Commercial Property Agents, Cllr McDermott addressed the challenges facing the Borough, including finances, centralisation, growth and the state of the High Street. He explained that budgets have been cut over the years and everything has become more centralised.

Housing, he said, was an issue, with housing needs not being met since 1970. Now TWBC is ‘duty bound’ to build 700 homes each year, which is a challenge. Cllr McDermott said that part of the solution would be a significant expansion of Paddock Wood and a new garden village near Tudeley.

When it came to retail, he explained that the High Street is facing challenges nationwide and that shopping habits have changed. What works now tend to be more ‘experimental’ offerings, such as flotation studios, massage facilities and yoga spaces; all things that you can’t buy online.

Cllr McDermott’s visit to the Chamber came in the same week as the new theatre project in Tunbridge Wells had been voted out. He has been a supporter of the project, so expressed his disappointment that it hadn’t gone ahead. It was he said a ‘great loss to the town and to me’.

He ended with some ‘cheerful’ facts about Tunbridge Wells, including that it remains a ‘great place’ to live and visit; is attracting both public and private investment, with new housing and hotel rooms; planned new investment for the Royal Victoria Place; work beginning on the old cinema site; and the forthcoming opening of The Amelia Scott cultural centre.

Cllr McDermott then welcomed questions from the floor which covered the traffic congestion in town and how this would no doubt worsen with the planned new housing, the opposition to the theatre project, the lack of office space in the centre of the town, the poor road system between North Farm and central Tunbridge Wells, and why Cllr McDermott had chosen to become a councillor in the first place.

When it came to the last question, he explained: “I had retired and was moaning about things quite a lot, as you do. My wife saw an advert in the local parish magazine for councillors and suggested this might be an avenue for my moaning, so I went for it.”