In December 2000 Crest Nicholson and BT's subsiduary, Southgate Developments, filed an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate against Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's refusal of planning permission concerning the development at Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells.
- A Public Inquiry was held at the Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, in May 2001.
It was with utter dismay that members of the Telephone House Neighbours Association heard of the decision made by a Government Planning Inspector concerning development plans for Telephone House. This decision upholds the appeal made by Crest Nicholson, the site's developers and overturns a rejection of the plans, in a decision made at a local level by the elected councillors of the Western Area Planning Committee. Twice, over a two year period, very similar plans have been rejected by TWBC, however it appears the final decision does not rest with those who are democratically elected; instead responsibility rests with a Civil Servant answerable to no one, least of all residents of Tunbridge Wells.
The ramifications of such a decision appear enormous. Developers now can use a precedent to develop what they like, where they like, knowing that the views of local people and their elected Councillors count for nothing. It seems no matter how well founded points are made, opposing developments with legal facts, logic and common sense will be pointless.
The Government Inspector has allowed the development of a site that will take density levels to new records. At 140 units per hectare this exceeds all comparable developments within Tunbridge Wells.
Residents will find it hard to understand how the Inspector can reject all the views of local people by quoting verbatim evidence supplied by Crest Nicholson for the Inspector's Inquiry. This information was in many instances factually incorrect, something local residents were keen to explain during the inquiry process. Despite this, the Inspector's judgement frequently uses Crest's evidence on a word for word basis.
Residents will also find it difficult to understand how Inspector Malcolm Lewis decided to take into account the Tunbridge Wells Local Plan Review - Deposit Copy; a document that was not material consideration at the time of the Public Inquiry.
At the draft stage of this policy document and prior to coming into the public domain, the Telephone House Neighbours Association had written to all Councillors asking them to delete Policy H6(a) - Telephone House (contained within the Local Plan Review) at their extraordinary Council Meeting on 23rd May, 2001. At this Council meeting, Rodney Stone, Chief Executive of TWBC, confirmed to David Wakefield, Councillor of Culverden Ward, that the inspector could not and would not take into account the Draft Local Plan Review. How was it then that the emerging Deposit Copy became a substantial piece of evidence for the Inspector to base his decision?
It certainly is ironic that Policy H6(a) allows for virtually the same type of scheme that the Western Area Planning Committee refused planning permission to Crest Nicholson/BT on 18 October 2000.
The Inspector refers twice to this specific policy in his report and quotes it in his reasons to allow the appeal. What a shame that elected Councillors chose to ignore the request made by the Telephone House Neighbours Association and as a result have reversed decisions they made earlier to refuse planning permission.
One cannot imagine that Inspector Malcolm Lewis would have had such an easy decision making process had our elected representatives stood up against civil servant officers and not followed their advice.
Such inconsistent thinking defies belief and leaves Councillors with only one option if they truly value their political integrity and really want to represent the views of the very people who elected them. Quite simply, Councillors must use their power to remove Section H6(a) from the Local Plan and lead TWBC to challenge Inspector Malcolm Lewis' decision by applying to the High Court within the specified time limit (14 Aug 2001).
Finally, the Telephone House Neighbours Association would like to thank the hundreds of people who wrote to us and encouraged us with our cause. Sadly, it appears this vast effort has been in vain.
So much for democracy.
The Telephone House Neighbours Association
Could the Inspector's decisions have been challenged ?
Public Inquiry May 2001: Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells
The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the controversial planning permission of the high density development of Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells.