Admirers of the famouus British architect Decimus Burton have not given up on the idea of opening a museum dedicated to their hero.
During his lifetime Decimus Burton designed many famous structures – from the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park, through to the Athenaeum Club in London and the Temperate House at Kew Gardens.
Arguably the most famous architect of the 19th century, Burton was a son of Tunbridge Wells, having spent his childhood at Mapledon and is particularly associated with the Calverley estate.
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society and the Decimus Burton Society jointly had ambitions to convert two adjoining Burton-designed properties in the town, owned by the council, into a Decimus Burton Museum.
But their plans for 9 and 10 Crescent Road, which included a shop, cafe and sensory garden, were rejected by the council in favour of putting the Grade II0listed villas up for sale on the open market.
Now the societies have written to the leader of the council, Cllr Ben Chapelard, asking him to consider an alternative proposal.
They suggest the council gives them a 25-year lease for 9 Crescent Road and the car park, with an option to purchase both at a market price after 10 years.
It would give the museum a chance to establish itself and prove its business case.
Paul Avis, who is the chairman of both societies, said the compromise solution would have benefits for the town.
He says not only would it give the council the immediate cash injection it seeks, from the sale of 10 Crescent Road, but it would also give Tunbridge Wells a major visitor attraction in the centre of the town to help to raise its tourism profile.
The concerns expressed by some councillors over the perceived financial risks of backing the museum would be greatly reduced, he argues.
Mr Avis added: “The council would be seen to be supporting, rather than objecting to, the vision and initiative of the residents of the town.”
The museum backers have produced a business plan that indicates in the longer term it could generate £750,000 a year for the local economy, which they say “far outweighs the short-term limited cash return from a flash sale”.
Mr Avis said: “Should the museum project not go ahead, the town would lose a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a tourist attraction of local and national importance.”
The council has not yet responded to the new suggestion.
The properties are currently being marketed through Lambert Smith Hampton with the council seeking sealed bids.
It hopes to sell the properties early in the New Year, and says that maintenance and repair of the buildings over the next year would otherwise cost £211,000.
Decimus Burton grew up in Tunbridge Wells at Mapledon House, the home of his father, James Burton, himself a successful builder.
Decimus was the tenth of James Burton’s 12 children.