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Costs soar for Nicholas Hare’s Tunbridge Wells theatre scheme

Allies morrison tonbridge
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The cost of a Nicholas Hare theatre and council offices scheme in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, has soared by £18 million in 18 months, councillors will hear this week

A report to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s cabinet details how the budget for the practice’s Calverley Square development has risen by 20 per cent to £108 million before a brick has been laid.

Nicholas Hare took on the project last year as subcontractors to the council’s appointed design and build contractor Mace, replacing fellow AJ100 firm Allies and Morrison, which had secured planning consent for the 1,200-seat theatre (pictured) and collonaded workspace in May 2018.

Shortly after planning permission was granted, the Conservative-run council approved compulsory purchase of the town centre site, which is currently a car park and dentist surgery as well as a grassed area.

Now councillors will be asked to endorse the budget increase when they meet tomorrow (Thursday 12 September), and to give the green light for the next stage of the deal with Mace.

The report says cost consultant AECOM identified a budget of £108 million following the completion of RIBA Stage 4 technical designs. This is up from £90 million at the end of 2017 when RIBA Stage 3 detailed design was complete.

Opposition Labour councillor Hugo Pound called for the scheme to be halted in favour of refurbishing the existing town hall and Assembly Hall Theatre – which could be sold under the current plans.

Pound suggested there should be a design contest for the refurbishment, saying it would ‘generate more innovative, imaginative, culturally, socially, environmentally and economically viable alternatives’.

The councillor insisted the scheme could become an election issue.

’There is almost no public support for the project – wrong project, wrong price, wrong place,’ he said. ‘If the Tories vote to approve the move to RIBA Stage 5, they will probably lose overall control of the council.’

Officers recommended approval of the budget increase, saying the scheme remained affordable and was preferable to alternative options such as refurbishing the existing facilities.

Following this week’s cabinet meeting, the authority’s full council will make a final decision on the project on 25 September. 

Nicholas Hare has been contacted for comment. Allies and Morrison has not worked on the scheme since it gained planning approval and declined to comment.  

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