Tonbridge & Malling Green Party says River Lawn, Tonbridge plans are shortsighted and have not been subject to proper public scrutiny

16 February 2017

Tonbridge & Malling Green Party believes Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council has been both shortsighted and unambitious in its plans for the redevelopment of sites at River Lawn in Tonbridge. We are also concerned about a lack of transparency around the process.

TMBC has taken the decision to sell land and buildings in River Lawn Road and River Walk in Tonbridge, following a review of its assets. The Council says the review “aimed to identify potential redevelopment opportunities that would benefit the community, improve services and provide financial return.”

This deal is in fact a fire sale of assets to help balance the books. Rather than retain land and buildings in public ownership and explore opportunities to generate sustainable income over the long-term, TMBC has chosen to sell assets for a one-time gain.

The proposed medical centre will not be developed by Tonbridge Medical Group but by the “specialist healthcare property developer and investor Assura, which will acquire the site, construct the medical centre and then lease it to Tonbridge Medical Group.”  This is essentially a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal but one in which the assets transfer to the private sector, with no guarantee that the planned use of the site will continue.

The development of a new medical centre at River Lawn will also see the surgery at Higham Lane closed. It is unacceptable to force patients to make unnecessary journeys into the town centre to see a doctor.

This important site is not mentioned in The Way Forward, the document which is supposed to “guide and manage future development in the Borough up to 2031.” Neither are the sites identified on the Call for Sites map, produced as part of the Local Plan process. 

Other local authorities, including Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Sevenoaks District Council, are currently expanding their property portfolios to generate a sustainable revenue flow. Sevenoaks District Council has invested in a Working Men’s Club in Swanley and even runs its own petrol station! Why is TMBC not exploring innovative ways to provide community facilities and affordable housing whilst retaining assets in public ownership? 

TMBC also announced that it has: “… agreed to sell some adjacent land in River Lawn Road for potential residential development” and “nearby land in River Walk has also been identified  as suitable for new homes and will also be put up for sale.” There are currently over 900 households on TMBC’s housing waiting list. We are concerned that when an opportunity presents itself to develop social housing, the council’s first instinct is to sell land to the highest bidder.

Will the Council be insisting that any housing built on these sites includes genuinely affordable homes for sale and rent?

Sevenoaks District Council property strategy http://www.kentlive.news/sevenoaks-district-council-has-bought-a-high-street-shop-and-office-complex-for-4-1-million/story-30127263-detail/story.html

Innovative approaches to housing provision https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/10/councils-innovative-projects-social-housing

One Public Estate project http://www.local.gov.uk/onepublicestate