While everybody in the town should applaud the ambition to boost Tunbridge Wells’ cultural offering, pressure on local government finances and competition for lottery funding could mean such a project is difficult to deliver. With the proposals funded by Kent County Council and the borough council, Heritage Lottery Fund cash is needed to get the scheme off the ground.
Gleeds, an international management consultancy company with an office in the town, has completed a study assessing which services could be located within a hub, and to estimate the operating and construction costs.
The study’s findings suggest a hub would provide a central focus for culture and learning; increase the attractiveness of the existing offer and reach a wider user base; improve and provide a more cost effective service; increase the potential to attract greater levels of income; and drive greater economic prosperity in the town.
At the heart of the council’s plan is a desire to address the challenges surrounding the storage and display of the museum and art gallery’s collection and how to make it more accessible, provide more varied displays and attract more visitors. Research undertaken so far indicates that these – alongside the library – could be the principal services in the hub, with additional offerings potentially including adult education, visitor information, performing arts facilities, café and social spaces, creative industries, youth services and a Gateway.
At this early stage it has been estimated that:
- The build costs will be in the region of £12m
- Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid could be £3.53m (capital cost)
- Leaving KCC and TWBC to fund £8.47m
The two councils will be commissioning a consultant to support the preparation and submission of a round one HLF application, the success of which will indicate the likelihood of the project being awarded a significant grant.
Let’s hope that – if the project gets the funding green light – Kent companies can be at the front of the queue when it comes to bidding for the contracts.