Meeting of the Telephone House Neighbours Association with Archie Norman, MP,
in Tunbridge Wells, on Friday 2 November 20001, noon.
There is a culture of secrecy amongst officers at the Town Hall. Whilst professing to engage in public consultation their response to individual enquiries is at best vague and minimal and at worst, they do not reply at all!
Senior Officers are arrogant and openly contemptuous of members of the public and Councillors alike. They have their own agenda which they seek to impose on the Borough and bitterly resent any opposition to their proposals. They seem to believe that the elected members of the Council are there to rubber stamp the proposals put forward by the officers.
As a standard routine Committee and Council agendas and supporting papers are not available until about three/four days before the meeting. Sometimes the time to study the agenda and papers is even shorter. Baring in mind that this is the first knowledge the Councillors will have of the subject it difficult for Councillors to come to meetings fully briefed and be in a position make an informed decision on even minor matters. On large issues (e.g. The Town Plan - 250 pages long) it is impossible to read and digest the information provided in the time available. Still less is it possible for any member of the public to study such papers and formulate questions on matters of interest to them. The period of notice (three working days) required for questions from members of the public frequently prevents those questions from being asked. Officers recently have used the three days notice rule to avoid having to provide answers for embarrassing questions concerning their conduct of the Telephone House planning application.
The problem stems from the top.
The Chief Executive strongly resents any criticism of Officers, no matter how justified. His method of operating ensures that there is the minimum of input from the elected representatives and that the views and ideas of the Senior Council Officers prevail. This regime effectively undermines the democratic process to an unacceptable extent.
The Western Area Planning Committee’s decision on 18 October 2000
The head of planning, Mr N Eveleigh, on 18th October, 2000 told the Western Area Planning Committee that it could not turn down the 2nd application for the development of the Telephone House site submitted by Crest Homes, on the same grounds as they turned down the first application some time earlier. This was deliberately misleading advice - there is no legal reason why the Committee should be barred from stating their true reasons for refusing the application - indeed it could be argued that they acted improperly in omitting most of their reasons from the recorded decision.
As a direct result of this misleading advice the Inspector who conducted the subsequent appeal disregarded 90% of the evidence placed before him as being not relevant to the reasons given for the refusal of the 2nd Crest Homes application by the Council. It is difficult to believe that a man of Mr Eveleigh's professional experience and seniority would have made his misleading statement on the 18th October as a result if ignorance or that he did not foresee the consequences of his action. One can only conclude that there was a deliberate attempt to undermine the WAPC 's decision which he must have know would almost certainly go to appeal. There were other irregularities in the handling of the Telephone House planning application which call for explanation, but the improper intervention by the Head of Planning on 18th October was fundamental to the failure of the TWBC's case and in our view calls for disciplinary action.
Policy H6(a) of the Draft Local Plan accords with the second Crest application for the Telephone House development. It was published after the termination of the Public Inquiry and was contrary WAPC’s decision 18 October 2000 and should have never been put into the Local Plan.
Furthermore it was leaked to Crest. They advised the Inspector who referred to it in his reasons to allow the appeal. The Council’s Chief Executive persuaded Councillors on their meeting 23 May to retain Policy H6(a) in the Draft Local Plan. In answer to a specific question from ward-cllr. David Wakefield he stated that it would not be taken into account by the Inspector. This is another irregularity which requires investigation and explanation. Cllr Leonard Price tells us that Policy H6(a) would be taken out of the Draft Local Plan, reason a planning application is granted by an inspector. This is the wrong approach!
Clearly Crest will not agree to this, unless they first have some assurance that in principle the WAPC are in favour and that Council officer will be made to cooperate.
After the Public Inquiry, during summer/autumn 2001 - The Attitude of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's
Chief Executive and Director of Operational Services towards residents and rate payers
The support of Archie Norman, MP for Tunbridge Wells
in connection with the Telephone House development