The Courier 30 November 2001 - News Page 2 and
FOCUS 4 December 2001 - News Page 3

Row over biased Telephone House report

A report by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council claiming its members were right to refuse plans for flats at Telephone House has been accused of being biased by residents.

After developer Crest Nicholson won its appeal from the Secretary of State, seven months after the council refused its application, officers conducted an investigation into their handling of the case.

Secretary of Telephone House Neighbours Association Annemarie Topliss said director of operational services John Haynes' report was neither impartial nor objective as he failed to talk to anybody from outside the council.

But Mr Haynes replied the report was internal, so he did not need to seek the opinion of third parties on why colleagues twice refused to permit the destruction of the 1960s concrete office block on Church Road and allow the building of 43 flats in its place.

At a town hall meeting Mrs Topliss also claimed errors such as "discouraging developers from contacting residents" were not investigated in enough depth by the report.
She has now called for a public inquiry to ensure these mistakes are addressed. While Mr Haynes admitted the planning application procedure needed to show greater consideration of the requirements of modern companies and residents, he also described the council's handling of Crest's plans as a "model for good practice". He also claimed the developer had been encouraged to meet and had met the Civic Society.

Despite the association's questioning of the integrity of the report a recommendation that planning procedure is simply reviewed by the Best Value Review Team was passed by the Special Operational Services Board.

Council chief executive Rodney Stone questioned just how much such an inquiry would achieve.
"I have never known a public inquiry to be called just because we lost a planning appeal".
"What actually would we get out of it? They have planning permission for 43 flats and there is nothing that can be done about it."
"No decision has been taken into whether or not to take this any further," he said.
"Clearly we are concerned about losing a major public inquiry. Having a six-figure sum to pay out to Crest in a way is money down the drain. I believe John's report gives us the raw material to learn lessons from this," he said.
"If there is a case of maladministration and residents have suffered an injustice, they can complain to the ombudsman.
"He can make independent recommendations to the council," he added.

A full council meeting to discuss the report's findings will take place at the Town Hall in the evening on Tuesday 4 December 2001 at 6pm.

27.11.01 - THNA Statement to the Operational Services Board Meeting, TWBC

TWBC Internal Inquiry into the Telephone House Debacle
18.11.01 Internal Report of the Director of Operational Services John Haynes

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