THE CHARACTER AND APPEARANCE OF THAT PART OF THE CONSERVATION AREA in Tunbridge Wells
WITHIN THE SETTING OF THE APPEAL SITE Church Road / York Road - Telephone House site.

Evidence filed by James Thomas of Rothermel Thomas,
Chartered Architects and Town Planners, London,
for the Public Inquiry 1 May 2001


4.4.2. KEY BUILDING GROUPS

4.4.2.(I) The buildings along Church Road between London Road and Mount Pleasant to some extent form a group. There is a sub-group at the western end, of listed buildings, including the pub. Moving east the narrow road widens to create a big space fronted by Nos. 16-22 on the north and the set back terrace Nos. 11-29 on the south. The neo-Georgian 8, Hanover Place adds to this group, but Telephone House does it immense harm. I call this 'a damaged group'.
There is a lesser group at the eastern end of Church Road, lesser in the sense that it is less cohesive; this group is also enormously harmed by Europa House. This is also a 'damaged' group.

4.4.2.(II) The buildings along York Road are certainly a group on its northern side, although there are buildings of different styles at both ends. However, on the southern side the group value is harmed by the gap site behind Telephone House, and the Habitat building, though of interest in itself, is alien in age, materials, height and style to the regency buildings on the northern side of York Road.

4.4.2.(III) The buildings on the east side of London Road, between Church Road and York Road, form a Key Group when seen from the common, but their backs do not appear as a group and are difficult to see from public places.

4.4.2.(IV) The buildings on the west side of Mount Pleasant Road are part of Mount Pleasant which is so disparate in age, style, quality and materials as not to form a Key Group.

4.4.3. KEY SPACES

The spaces in front of Nos. 16-22 Church Road, and, on the other side of the road, north of Nos. 11-29 together form a Key Space. The composition of this wide space is wrecked by the ugliness, height and bleakness of Telephone House, and its tarmaced front car park and cheap looking boundary wall. Similarly Europa House makes a harmful southern boundary to the space between it and the former church.

4.4.4. VIEWS

There are important long views from the appeal site's southern part, along Church Road to the west across the common to Mount Ephraim and to the east along Church Road, past the 'church' along Crescent Road towards Calverley Park.
The view along York Road in both directions both to the Town Centre and out to the Common and Mount Ephraim is important. (See my photos Nos.5, 19, 21, 22,23, 24, 28, 29, 37, 54, and 55, in Appendix RT No. 4).

4.4.5. LOCAL DETAILS

Walking round, looking, one is struck by how often the quality of the detailing and the quality of maintenance lets down the overall quality of the character and appearance of this part of the conservation area. The buildings have often been spoilt to some extent, by poor standard additions or alterations and the stucco buildings especially have intrusive shabby stucco, or peeling paintwork. Key elements have sometimes been replaced with poor modern substitutes. Walling and fencing is sometimes sub-standard. (See my photographs Nos. 10, 14, 32, and 36 in Appendix RT No. 4).

4.4.6. CONTRIBUTION OF GREEN SPACES, TREES AND HEDGES

This part of the conservation area has an urban feel. The church is an urban church, sideways onto the road with only a small churchyard. There is a large green space north-east of the 'church', photograph No. 53, Appendix RT No. 4, and a long thin space in front of the long terrace on the south side of Church Road and this is lined with trees.
However, the thin line of trees at the back of the appeal site on the south side of York Road does not make much of a contribution, photographs 44 and 52, and the contribution that it makes is alien to the densely packed line of 19th c. houses on the northern side of York Road, photograph No. 35, where the houses have only vestigial strip front gardens. This urban feel is emphasised by the solid lines of carparking along York Road, photographs Nos. 33 and 35, - similar to much of inner London, say in Kensington, Chelsea, and Battersea.


4.5. HARMFUL ELEMENTS

4.5.1. Sadly, there exist, within this part of the conservation area, harmful elements. These are buildings which fall within the category of buildings which detract from the special character or appearance of the area, as my photographs in Appendix RT No. 4. show.

4.5.2. Europa House is one of these (see photos Nos. 4, 5, 15, 16,24 and 34). Europa House in its present configuration is grotesquely ugly in itself and alarmingly insensitive to the listed terrace which is next to it on its western side. They are three to four storeys high with pretty Dutch gables, whereas Europa House (now called Wellington Gate), is five huge storeys high in its main elevation with a further mansard floor, and then another two lumpy layers above that. Both in short, (Photo No. 16) and long views (e.g. Photo No. 24), its bulk, form, massing and detail design do immense harm to this part of the conservation area., The detailed design of the main front elevation is execrable with silly little pediments and uncouth vaguely classical motifs producing an extremely clumsy and inept design.

4.5.3.Telephone House itself, the appeal site, is another harmful element (see photos Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 18,19,20,21, 22,23,24,25, and cover). This building is so bad in design terms that it is scarcely architecture at crude, without any grace. Ugly in itself, and crashingly insensitive to its neighbours and its context. The height is excessive; the plan form - a crude T- is banal, and its positioning on the site creates awkward left-over spaces, covered in pock-marked tarmac, and the detail design of the elevation (see photo No. 20) is harsh, ill-proportioned and unresolved as a design. The materials are of poor quality and the forecourt and its enclosing walls are cheap looking and of no quality at all; instead of being called 'Syncordia House' it should be called 'Discordia House'.
It is described in the Council's Conservation Area Appraisal of October, 2000, as a major intrusion (para 1.1.8 on p. 65) The text reads (under the heading 'York Road and Church Road'):
'. . . elsewhere much has been lost. Telephone House, a five storey 1960's concrete framed office building is a major intrusion: its slab-like mass offers a crude roofline compared with the delicacy and interest of the gables and chimneys of earlier buildings, and its mechanical elevations have none of the human scale modulation of its neighbours'.
The present building represents an alienation to the historic grain both by the building itself and by the expanse of car parking in front, to the side and north of it. As well as the ugliness of the T-shaped block itself, its positioning on the site is harmful, it creates ugly spaces behind Telephone House, and these ugly spaces make a large gap site along the southern side of York Road, which otherwise consists of small blocks of closely spaced houses which give the impression of a continuous terrace.


Rothermel Thomas, Chartered Architects and Town Planners,
14-16 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6DG



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