Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company SCRAPPED: Controversial venture has cost taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds
By kentsussex | Thursday, November 15, 2012, 19:41
The deeply controversial company created by council chiefs to develop key sites in and around Tunbridge Wells is being scrapped.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council leader David Jukes
Senior Conservatives at the Town Hall have today voted to abandon their ten-year partnership with developer John Laing after four fruitless years.
The imminent closure of the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company was described by one councillor this week as a "mercy to taxpayers", yet the total cost to the public purse of the failed venture is estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Council leader David Jukes said: "While it is disappointing that we have agreed to end the partnership, I am delighted with the support we have had from John Laing over the last four years.
"They have been professional throughout and their support has helped the council develop its vision for the borough."
The company is set to be wound up at the end of the month in a meeting of the Regeneration Company's board members.
Mr Jukes added: "The winding up of the company at the end of November will mean the end of the Regeneration Company but will give Tunbridge Wells Borough Council the opportunity to go forward and look at sites in our own right."
The regeneration company was formed in December 2008 to build on 38 council-owned sites across Tunbridge Wells, Southborough, Cranbrook and Paddock Wood, with the council and John Laing sharing any profits.
But it has proved a political and financial disaster.
In that time not a single development has been started – the closest it came was to demolishing the council's Cranbrook offices last July – and in 2011 the council had to compensate John Laing more than £100,000 after abandoning advanced plans for the Great Hall car park in Tunbridge Wells.
The most high-profile failing was that of the regeneration company's attempts to replace the Town Hall with a shopping centre – an immensely contentious proposal which led to the ousting of then council leader Roy Bullock and prompted his successor to pause all redevelopments while he reviewed the regeneration company.
This would have been the most lucrative of the 38 sites, but when this scheme was abandoned last year under the weight of intense public pressure, many predicted the regeneration company would not last much longer.
Yesterday, in discussions the public were barred from, the council's cabinet voted to wind up the company, six years before its expiry date and 12 months before the five-year get-out clause becomes active.