Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society

The former ABC Cinema has stood vacant and derelict for sixteen years, blighting this key site in the town centre. Now planning permission has been granted but is this what we really want after all this time?

The Society is delighted the proposal for a cultural hub based on the Library, Museum, Art Gallery and Adult Education Centre has been approved. We believe this is necessary to enable the town’s collections of pictures, costumes and Tunbridgeware to be properly displayed, and the most popular library in Kent to have the space it requires. The necessary refurbishment and extension of the listed buildings will also provide for community workshops, to tell the Tunbridge Wells Story, and rehouse services from the Gateway. 

The Council’s proposals for the Assembly Hall and the Town Hall are the subject of great controversy and debate. The Society submitted proposals for the Council to modernise the buildings internally, link them and retain them in Council use with public access, with surplus space rented out. The whole civic complex would then function as an active community centre, with business, representative and administrative functions linked to the arts and educational side in the Hub. This has been overlooked in place of a huge scheme involving building new offices on the Mount Pleasant Car Park and a new theatre on the Great Hall Car Park.

The Society urged the Council to upgrade the public realm in the town centre, and was involved in early discussions over improvements, with more space and better surfaces for people on foot, less clutter, and reducing the intrusiveness of traffic, possibly by `shared space`. We wanted a simpler, safer environment, cheaper to maintain, with scope for planting, art installations and water features, which could easily be extended to further areas. We were pleased when these principles were adopted but disappointed in what has been achieved so far without further involvement by the Society, with little sense of an overall vision. 

Picture: Town Hall. Alastair Tod.

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society - Registered Charity No. 276545