Courier 13 April 2001- Opinion Page 13


The future of one of Tun bridge Wells' most controversial buildings. Telephone House, will be decided next month.

Developer Crest Nicholson's plans for 43 flats will be considered by an inspector at an inquiry in the Town Hall.

As nearby campaigners against the proposals prepare for what they have described as "their final stand" a Church Road resident tells the Courier why he believes the plans must be refused.

by Nigel Watts

Wrong scheme: Nigel Watts explains why he is against plans to develop the old Telephone House in Church Road, Tunbridge Wells.

Our MP Archie Norman has given magnificent support to local residents opposed to this development proposal.
In a letter to me he was quite right in stating, as he did in his penultimate paragraph, that "unfortunately now it has gone to appeal stage there is not a great deal that can be done."

I accept entirely that this reflects the position obtaining but it is surely a matter of grave concern for us all not only in regard to this site but to any other future site to be developed in a conservation area that we understand just how this most regrettable situation has been engendered.

There are a number of points to consider:

  1. It is the case officer, who in this instance is the senior planning officer, working under the direction of the planning and building control services manager who between them dealt with the two applications for this sensitive site.
    The second application now under appeal is but a slight modification of the first which was refused.

  2. Given the history of this application it has become increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the paramount concern of these two officers has been to obtain a benefit for the borough council by applying rigidly the guidelines of the various Government directives relating to new development.
    These guidelines enable them to require from the developers a large percentage of the development to be handed over pro bono for that which is described by the euphemism as affordable housing.
    In this case it consisted of the entirety of the eight flats in Block D amounting to nearly 20per cent of the development.
    These were to be acquired by obliging the developer to enter into a Section 106 Agreement before any consent was endorsed by the council.

  3. One need not be endowed with any exceptional measure of judgment to have been able to detect that if the developer was to provide a building of inspired design which would enhance the amenity of this central part of the conservation area they would not be able to achieve this if the council persisted with so onerous a requirement.
    This notwithstanding the developer was invited to make an application such as the one we oppose now under appeal.

  4. The deplorable failure of the council to exercise discretion and relax this requirement for this most sensitive of sites is the fundamental cause of the predicament which confronts us now.
    In the light of the recommendations which have been advanced by the case officer an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State to adjudicate this appeal is likely to allow it.

  5. The council did not give adequate consideration to the report of the senior conservation officer and furthermore did not properly take account of the most serious and legitimate concerns lodged by the local community whose lives were affected by this development proposal.

  6. The representative of the borough council who will be opposing on our behalf the application under appeal at the public inquiry on May 1 is the very same case officer who recommended to the area planning committee that this application should be passed.

  7. In submitting her proof of evidence for the appeal the final paragraph of the case officer's introduction states "the views expressed are intended to reflect those of the members of the committee and are not necessarily my own."
    If members of the western area planning committee intended with conviction to refuse the latest application they should not identify with this report.

  8. On Thursday April 5, I spoke to the case officer who was at pains to convey that she would conduct another case in precisely the same way.
    I was informed in no uncertain terms that it was essential that the democratic process needed to be strictly adhered to in such planning matters.

I trust that you and your readers will understand why we humble local residents are feeling a little uncomfortable.

The Telephone House Development - a guide through the Local Press