Courier 15 February 2002 Page 5

Planning practice lessons learned

by Mary Harris

Valuable lessons have been learned about planning practice at the town hall, say Tunbridge Wells Borough Council bosses.

A working party was set up following the saga of the Telephone House development which raised questions about procedures and the balance of power between elected councillors and paid officers.

Its findings were revealed at a meeting on Thursday last week, attended by members of Telephone House Neighbours' Association who claimed the working party had failed to address their concerns.

Association secretary Annemarie Topliss urged councillors to support an independent public inquiry to examine the conduct of council officers involved in the Church Road development.

But council chief executive Rodney Stone said an inquiry would only examine whether the council had followed its procedure. It would not explore if that procedure was correct.
"If you're looking at maladministration, which is frankly the allegation, the more important question is whether the procedures are right," said Mr Stone.

Director of operational services John Haynes suggested the association referred their complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.
"That would be an independent third party person outside the organisation who is au fait with rules and regulations of local government.
"I would like the neighbours' association to have more confidence in the planning process. I want them to take away the message we as an authority are committed to listening and learning and I believe we have learned."
He suggested councillors should be able to ask for any application to be brought before committee instead of it being decided by officers under delegated powers.
"We need to make sure members are better informed so they can make better decisions," added Mr Haynes.
Its recommendations included encouragement of pre-application discussions between developers and the public.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's Internal Inquiry into the Telephone House Debacle

What went wrong with the Telephone House Planning Applications?
The uneasy questions to the Chief Executive Rodney Stone and other senior officers of TWBC

A guide through Tunbridge Wells Local Press since August 2000 - "The Telephone House Debacle"