Paul McCreery of Barton Willmore admits in his Proof of Evidence for the Public Inquiry, May 2001
Telephone House site contains abundant surface level parking, a facility which is in s h o r t supply in Tunbridge Wells

3.2 The Processing of the Planning Application

  1. Whilst the Statement of Common ground refers to the extent of discussions between the appellant and the local planning authority, both prior to submission of the appeal proposals, and during the determination process, it is in my opinion worth reviewing this, given the fact that these negotiations ultimately led to an officer's recommendation for approval.

  2. In order to overcome the reasons for refusal of the former application for the redevelopment of this site, the appeal proposals were, as set out in Trevor Sutlers evidence, the subject of exhaustive discussions with the local planning authority prior to submission. Thereafter, during the determination process, the appeal proposals were the subject of further negotiations with both the local planning authority and the Civic Society. A detailed schedule of events during the processing of the appeal application is contained in the evidence of Mr Sutters.

  3. Whilst I understand that the Civic Society remain concerned at the overall impact of the proposals for block A, the case officer, in consultation with the conservation officer, recommended that subject to a legal agreement regarding affordable housing provision, and a contribution to off-site play space, the appeal proposals be approved when they were considered by members at the Western Area Sub-Committee Meeting on 18th October 2000. Members decision to refuse the appeal proposal contrary to their officer's advice, was in my opinion misguided, and as we will demonstrate was not based on sound land use planning grounds, as required by paragraphs 60 and 61 of PPG1.

  4. It is important to recognise that the favourable recommendation from officers was not achieved easily in this case. The previous application on this site had been refused because it did not achieve support from the Planning Officers. Numerous pre-application and post submission consultations were undertaken with the officers before the appeal application could be recommended favourably. In fact, as demonstrated by the evidence of Mr Sutters, the appeal scheme evolved through a process of consultation with Officers, and was revised on a number of occasions until it met with the approval of the Officers. The design process also involved several meetings with the Civic Society, following which the applicants sought to incorporate the views of the Society so far as possible.

  5. In accordance with the requirements of PPG1 (paragraph A5) and PPG15 (paragraph 2.11) the proposals evolved following extensive consultation with the local Planning Authority and the Civic Society. The collaborative nature of the process is in accordance with Government policy. In my opinion the complex process of collaboration which was undertaken in the evolution of the currenl appeal application is a good example of best urban design practice in this regard.

  6. Whilst I fully acknowledge the right of elected members to take a different view to that of their professional officers, having undertaken such a comprehensive and apparently successful exercise in urban design, the outcome in this case was particularly disappointing, bearing in mind the advice given in paragraph 60 of PPG1.

  7. Having refused two applications for the residential redevelopment of the site, it is important to consider the alternatives for the future use of both the site and the prominent building which stands on it. Crest Homes are prospective purchasers of the site. If this appeal is unsuccessful, then their agreement to purchase will fall away and the freehold owners, Southgate Developments Limited/BT, will be forced to consider the alternatives (see appendix 4). The most likely outcome will be a continuation in office use, for which no further planning permission is needed. Southgate Developments will also have to consider whether to complete the office extension granted permission under reference TW/80/375. The site contains abundant surface level parking, a facility which is in short supply in Tunbridge Wells, and which, bearing in mind current Government policy, is likely to become even more difficult to achieve. As such the building's continued use for office purposes is likely to become even more sought after as time goes on. In this respect I am advised by King Sturge (Appendix 5), commercial agents to the owner, that commercial re-use of the building is a fully viable proposition.

  8. Another alternative would be to re-use the building for residential purposes, (either with or without recladding the exterior). Whilst this use would need planning permission, bearing in mind Government policy on making best use of urban land, I consider it is unlikely that such a permission would not be forthcoming. In this respect, a preliminary scheme showing a potential conversion of the building to flats is included with the evidence of Mr Sutters.

  9. Either of these alternative uses would involve the retention of the current structure which is acknowledged to be highly intrusive and damaging to the urban fabric of Tunbridge Wells. These uses would also involve the retention of a large area of surface car parking which is highly detrimental to residential amenity. Both alternatives do not take advantage of the opportunity to remove the current eyesore building, nor to restore the residential terraced pattern of York Road which has been destroyed by the relatively recent [ winter 1981/1982 ] demolition of several unlisted buildings [ Nos. 23 and 25 York Road ] within the Conservation Area.

  10. It is my firm professional opinion that the existence of the current building on the site, and the potential future uses for it are considerations which are highly material to the determination of both the planning application and this appeal. In my opinion, the appeal proposal makes best use of an urban brownfield site whilst not infringing on any design considerations relating to the Conservation Area and nearby listed buildings. As such, the proposals have much to commend them. I note that in formulating their recommendation to Committee, the officers agreed with my conclusion that the proposed development is acceptable in all respects.

  11. Even if the current building were not to be standing on the site, and even if it were to be found that permission TW/80/375 could not be completed, the implementation of the appeal proposals would in my opinion be highly desirable given the policy imperative to make best use of urban land and the restorative nature of the appeal proposals in making good the damage to the amenities of the Conservation Area caused by earlier demolitions.

  12. As the Borough Council has lost the opportunity to grant planning permission for the appeal proposal, and should this appeal not succeed, it is very difficult to see how a circumstance could arise in the future to secure the improvements associated with a comprehensive residential redevelopment The most likely future for the site, in my opinion, would be either its continued use for office purposes or (subject to the grant of planning permission) its re-use for housing. In either case, the significant benefits which result from the appeal proposals simply would not happen.

  13. It is unlikely that a sole office occupier would be found for Telephone House. If re-let as offices this would more than likely be to a number of individual occupiers with different leases covering different periods of time. Should the building be converted to flats, it is likely that these would be disposed of on a long leasehold basis. As soon as Telephone House begins to be the subject of a number of different leases, then the prospect of securing a vacant site, available for comprehensive residential redevelopment, looks increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

July 2000 - The footprint / layout of the proposed blocks of flats in comparison:
present Telephone House - 1st and 2nd planning applications submitted by Crest Homes (South East) Ltd and Southgate Developments Ltd

Back to Barbara Clarke’s speech at the Public Inquiry in May 2001: Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells,
Crest Nicholson (Agent: Barton Willmore) joint with BT's Southgate Developments versus Tunbridge Wells Borough Council