Courier 18 May 2001 Page 12


As the fate of Telephone House in Tunbridge Wells is being decided by a Government inspector, the Courier invited The Telephone House Neighbours Association and developer Crest Nicholson to respond to the public inquiry.

The four-day meeting at the town hall ended on Friday [ 4 May 2001 ] and it is expected to take up to five weeks for the inspector to reach a decision.
[ INFO: Telephone House Appeal decision announced on 3 July 2001 ]

The 1960s vacant concrete building in Church Road - a former administrative headquarters for BT - has been widely criticised for its design by both parties.

While they agree the five-storey building is out of keeping with the street setting, they disagree on what should now replace it.

Telephone House occupies a prime town centre site and has been the subject of a complicated planning history.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council twice refused Crest Nicholson permission to demolish the office block and build flats. The application which is the cause of the inquiry, is for 43 flats in four blocks with underground parking for 38 cars, with access from York Road.

The uncertain future of Telephone House
Peter Morse, Chairman of The Telephone House Neigbours Association, Tunbridge Wells

The Public Inquiry over Crest Nicholson's and British Telecom's proposed development of Telephone House ended last Friday [ 4 May 2001 ] after four days of hearing and cross-examination.

The Government Inspector has a crucial role as he takes away evidence gathered to decide the way forward.

Some weeks from now the future of this prime site will be known.
Of considerable concern to local residents is the fact that this future may not be for the better of the town and its immediate community.

Certain issues though remain clear. The developers believe the site is extremely profitable.
- Why else would they appeal against two rejections by the local planning authority?
- Why else would they employ a range of professional advisors, including one of the Britain's top barristers to present their case?


Members of Telephone House Neighbours Association spoke at the inquiry highlighting the deficiencies in the developer's case. Supported by local Councillors and by Tunbridge Wells MP, Archie Norman, an argument was put forward to the Inspector that provided a third dimension, different from that presented by the developers and the Planning Officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

In brief, residents objections to the development include:-

Worse alternative

Throughout the inquiry, the developers suggested that the alternative to their plans was to convert the existing Telephone House into residential apartments, the implication being, the community should accept the development plans because the alternatives would be worse!

The Telephone House Neighbours Association has always stressed that they are not anti-change. How could they be when clearly Telephone House is such an eye sore.

However, it is argued logically and rationally that the alternative must be a development that adds genuinely to the quality of the Conservation Area and provides an enhancement to the look and feel of the town centre.

Residents for all the reasons outlined above believe that the current plans will not do this and in fact close to 800 other people from Tunbridge Wells have written to the Association expressing their support for the Association's cause.

The residents realise that all planning guidelines had been exploited by the appellant to the maximum, with one exception: The Urban White Paper, which clearly states that: "people have a right to determine their future and be involved in deciding how their town or city develops!"

The town has a one off opportunity to significantly improve the fabric of the town centre and enhance the quality of life of the local community. Whatever the outcome of this appeal; the Association wishes to remind BT of one of their best advertising slogans: "It's good to talk!"

Government decision 'eagerly awaited'

Development company Crest Nicholson Residential was offered the opportunity to make a comprehensive case of its own in response to the Telephone House Neighbours Association. It chose to issue the following statement:
"Crest Nicholson Residential is satisfied that it presented a strong case for the redevelopment of Telephone House during the course of the recent public inquiry, and that it successfully provided answers to a number of issues raised by local residents."
"Telephone House is an eyesore and arguably, 'the ugliest building in Tunbridge Wells', Crest's proposals make full use of the site to accommodate a high quality residential development in line with local and national planning policy."
"Planning officers have already stated the Crest's proposed development would be a significant improvement and enhancement of the area, and Crest Nicholson eagerly awaits the Secretary of State's decision."

January 2001 - Statement of Case by The Telephone House Neighbours Association
for the Telephone House Appeal and the Public Inquiry May 2001

Councillors of Culverden Ward, the MP for Tunbridge Wells and the appellants' QC

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