Courier 25 January 2002 Frontpage

Left to pay the Telephone bill
Failed planning appeal costs taxpayer six-figure sum

By Mary Harris

Taxpayers will be left picking up the hefty bill for an appeal over the controversial development of Telephone House in Tunbridge Wells.

The costs expected to be in six figures follows developers Crest Nicholson's success at a planning hearing.

The borough council has been widely criticised for its handling of the application for the Church Road flats. It was ordered to pay appeal costs by the Secretary of State but a figure has yet to be finalised.

Chairman Len Price of the western area planning committee which dealt with the twice refused application for 43 flats, has since resigned.

Borough solicitor and secretary Martin Harris said the council was prepared to dispute Crest's costs if it considered them too high. The amount will include payments for expert witnesses and a "top flight Queen's Counsel".

"We are still waiting for a final figure. We haven't had a breakdown. If necessary we will ask for the bill to be taxed which means a court will work it out," he said.

The council was only prepared to pay a "reasonable sum" but Mr Harris would not give a figure.

A working party was set up to put in place clear planning guidelines following an internal inquiry which found greater consideration for the needs of companies was required.

Councillor Val Catt said there had been a "great deal of misunderstandings" between the council, Crest and the neighbours' association.

"That starts up suspicion. There was a general lack of openness and this creates vibes, some of which are real."

Cllr Catt said councillors on planning committees often felt a "pressure" to get on with deciding applications and the reasons for outcomes were not always clearly set down.

"We have not got one mind. There needs to be a break in the meeting or a follow-on to the meeting when we can debate reasons for refusal. It's unfortunate that the inspector felt the council did not fulfill all its obligations. I think it was a harsh judgment.

"Crest hired a top flight Queen's Counsel but we deemed it unnecessary."

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

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

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