Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society

The former ABC Cinema stood vacant and derelict for fourteen years, blighting this key site in the town centre. It is widely believed that the present owners paid an inflated price, and there is a danger of the site remaining vacant for many more years. The Society believes the Council should take action to prevent this happening, or failing that, to bring it into temporary use.  

The Society supports the proposal for a cultural hub based on the Library, Museum, Art Gallery and Adult Education Centre. 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 could also provide for community workshops, to tell the Tunbridge Wells Story, and rehouse services from the Gateway. 

The Council’s proposals for the Cultural Hub do not at present include the Assembly Hall or the Town Hall, adjacent parts of the listed civic complex. Both need investment to meet modern standards, and would be prohibitively expensive to replace. The Society has 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. 

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