You are here: » Home » News

Borough Councillor for Judd Ward and Kent County Councillor for Tonbridge

Angel Centre and Miniature Railway Update

A Personal Statement by Cllr Mark Hood

When I was elected as councillor for Judd Ward it was because residents placed their trust in me to do my best to represent their interests and the interests of our town and borough. They voted for me to use my judgement to do the right thing, I haven’t always got it right but I have always put our community first.

I have attended two workshops as part of the work carried out by Mace, the consultants brought in to assess the councils’ options for using its Tonbridge Town Centre property assets. The re-evaluation of the councils’ property assets is something that the Green Party has been pressing for since we joined the council.
Since the first part of the Mace works several things have changed and many of the proposals are commercially sensitive following discussions with several businesses and I have been careful not to disclose those. A fundamental problem which needs to be resolved is what do we do with the Angel Centre which most people agree is tired and past its sell-by date as confirmed by our own survey of residents. We want to see it replaced with a civic centre including state-of-the-art leisure facilities close to the current site.
Four different options were put forward by the consultants for consideration and at the end of the session attendees were asked to vote for their preferred option, the most popular would be prioritised in the next phase of the work.
The options were to refurbish the current Angel Centre, to demolish the Angel Centre and rebuild on the current site, to demolish and rebuild at an adjacent site and the last option was to demolish and relocate the leisure services to the area next to the Swimming Pool where the Miniature Railway now sits. The last option was chosen by a clear margin after a vote which included the votes of the consultants, cabinet members and directors of the council only five councillors living in Tonbridge attended.
I do not believe that working up detailed proposals which include relocation to the Miniature Railway site is either desirable or deliverable. I was conscious that the vast majority of those in attendance were not familiar with the affection with which the Miniature Railway is held by residents. The borough council has a track record of being tone-deaf to the wishes of residents and it seemed this was just another example. The preferred site is at the highest possible flood risk and the only reason for relocation here is the ability of customers to use the café facilities at the Swimming Pool and to share staff.
It was only at the end of the second workshop that the Leader of the Council announced that he considered the content confidential, no previous mention of confidentiality had been made or implied. Generally, a confidential conversation starts with the words ‘I am telling you this in confidence” or “strictly between you and me” that isn’t how the conversation ends.
Only once I had seen the Leader of the Council’s denial that any proposals were afoot for development at the Miniature Railway, following an April Fool Joke on social media did I decide to speak out. It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that the workshop did not result in a clear indication that the preferred option of attendees for relocating the Angel Centre services was next to the Swimming Pool, the mapping used was explicit. I believe that the sooner that those in power are aware of the strength of feeling against their preference the better, that they were inclined to go down that route underlines that they are woefully out of touch.
I do not regret letting the cat out of the bag, I am not bound to secrecy at the whim of the Leader of the Council. The majority of councillors are unaware that scarce financial resources are being wasted on an option which residents would subsequently force it to abandon like the Calverley Square project in Tunbridge Wells.
I would suggest the most responsible thing to do was to raise the alarm and force a change of direction including one of the other three options. I weighed up the pros and cons including being charged with breaching the Councillors Code of Conduct, I believe I have acted ethically and with integrity in the public interest and I hope that after the reaction of residents, we can put this ludicrous option behind us.
I don’t sit in the council to represent the borough council, I sit there to represent my residents, the Leader of the Council would do well to do the same. I have been falsely accused of lying and I will be asking the Monitoring Officer to investigate the conduct of the Leader of the council.