Courier 15 March 2002 Frontpage

Fresh twist in planning saga
Developers tell MP they are selling Telephone House

By Mary Harris

Yet a further twist has been added to the long and sorry saga surrounding prime building land in the heart of Tunbridge Wells.

Crest Nicholson has told MP Archie Norman it has decided to wash its hands of Telephone House in Church Road and sell up.

It could be back to the drawing board for the new developers and the borough council but Telephone House Neighbours' Association which fought hard against the flats sees this news as a glimmer of hope.

The borough council's controversial rejection of the plans for 43 flats was overruled at a planning inquiry and their handling labelled "a botch job" by campaigners. The council was forced to pay the 60.000 appeal costs.


This fiasco led to an overhaul of planning procedure at the Town Hall against the backdrop of a Government Green Paper which aims to shake up the local authority planning structures and could become legislation in 2003.

It is just a fortnight since a heated council debate about an improved code of practice which saw it sent back to the drawing board for fine tuning.

Although the new owners have not been named it has been seen as an opportunity by the neighbours' association and Archie Norman MP.

They fought the plans they considered "over dense" and out of character with their surroundings. A sale may give all parties a chance to "knit together something of which we are all pleased and proud" said association campaigner Daniel Bech.

Mr Bech also wants the planning committee to rethink its approach to Telephone House in the Draft Local Plan where it is earmarked for a minimum 40 flats.
"We hope they can look at the points we have made all along because we think they are relevant. This was a botch job from the start," he said.

Although Crest Nicholson refused to comment to the Courier, managing director Peter Bowden has told Mr Norman that following a "commercial review" Telephone House would be sold.

Mr Norman said: "This planning application has given rise to more public dissent and anxiety than any other in recent times in Tunbridge Wells. It has been a very unhappy episode with a very unfortunate history. The final plans please no-one - neither local councillors, residents nor the developers."
He added it was the "last major development opportunity" in the town centre and in the midst of a Conservation Area: Major redevelopment as this provided an opportunity to reshape the town's landscape for the better.

Mr Norman intends to call a meeting with the new owners as soon as Crest reveal who they are.

Whom are we dealing with ? - The developers of Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells

Policy H6(a) allocated for the Telephone House site in the Local Plan Review
dictates the same scheme as the twice refused planning applications

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