Annemarie Topliss, York Road, Tunbridge Wells
Rodney Stone, Esq
Royal Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells
3 November 2000
Western Area Planning Committee Meeting on Wednesday, 18.10.2000
Application No TW/00/01474
Demolition of existing building and erection of 43 flats with basement lever parking, Telephone House, Church Road, Tunbridge Wells
Report (ref RCC/CRW) presented to the Western Area Planning Committee by Mrs R Chambers
Dear Mr Stone
After having attended the above-mentioned Planning Committee Meeting on 18 October I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the report presented by the case officer was one-sided and heavily biased in favour of the applicant whereas a well balanced, objective report is always called for on such occasions.
Not Presenting Material Supplied by the Residents
Full three working days prior to the meeting we hand-delivered a 42 page brochure, a print-out of the pages from our York Road Internet site, to the Planning Office, addressed to Mrs. R Chambers, with a written request to make it available to the Committee.
Mrs Chambers mentioned to the Committee that our document was received on Tuesday and just waved it in the air. In view of her lengthy presentation, supported mainly by the applicants' material, we feel that the residents' efforts "to make their opinion count" were ignored unfairly.
Using the Applicants' Material
A video supplied by the Applicants was used by Mrs Chamber in her presentation while, as mentioned, our material was not.
Report: " DESCRIPTION " (page W1)
Why claim 15 visitor parking spaces with access from Church Road, when 19 spaces were confirmed by the Highway Manager in the am meeting (19 are presently marked in the forecourt).
The listed buildings to the West of Telephone House fronting Church Road (Nos 16/18 and Nos 20/22) were missing in the entire Report and when listed buildings in the immediate vicinity were referred to.
Report: " Summary of current proposals " (page W2)
Visitor Parking Spaces accessed from Church Road
Were the visitors of Blocks B, C and D (on the York Road side) supposed to use these (4)? No provision for visitors' parking of these three blocks was mentioned in the Report.
Report: " CONSULTATION AND BACKGROUND PAPERS " (pages W4-W7)
Southern Water Authority (page W6)
The Report mentions that "Southern Water Authority does not wish to make any comments." This is not a satisfactory answer to whether utility companies like Southern Water, South East Water, Seeboard and British Gas could cope with this quantity of new units.
Private (pages W 6- W7)
Omission of Concerns mentioned in the Residents' Standard Letter
When referring to a standard letter sent in by York Road residents, paragraph 3 of the letter is omitted: " 3. Sole access / exit for vehicular arrangements through York Road is unacceptable."
The Number of Individual Letters on File
was given as 20, whereas there are 31 on file.
- "unacceptable - little change from previous, refused scheme" given as 2 letters when there are 11 letters on file
- "are services adequate?" given as 2 letters when there are 5 letters on file
- "increased noise" given as 2 letters where there are 5 letters on file
- "support demolition of Telephone House" given as 3 letters when there are 8 letters on file
- "asbestos concern" given as 1 letter when there are 2 letters on file
Letters were Not Correctly Summarised and Relevant Points not Highlighted
adverse impact on Conservation Area (1 letter)
Report: " APPRAISAL " (pages W8 - W11)
"Effect on the Conservation Area" (page W8)
"In my view, the Church Road elevation [five storeys] would achieve an acceptable relationship with the adjoining properties in terms of its overall scale."
The building to the East (No 8, Hanover House) is two storeys high, the ones to the West (Nos 16/18 and Nos 20/22) are three storeys high.
"In conclusion, the scheme would result in a significant enhancement of the Conservation Area."
On the contrary, this was only supported by the developers who openly stated at the Planning Committee meeting that their proposal could be the only way to get rid of the current 'eyesore'.
"Effect on setting of listed Buildings" (page W9)
"Although the proposal represents an intensive use of the site, I do not consider that this would be unacceptable in listed building / Conservation Area terms, taking into account the existing authorised use of the site (ie commercial)."
Previous office use does not justify high density residential use in a listed buildings setting and a conservation area. It is an illogical sequitur or a case of mixing apples and pears.
"Impact on residential amenities" (page W9)
"... would overlook existing properties - but this is considered to be in keeping with the overall pattern of the development in the street"
Facing non-residential buildings like the former Congregational Church, Trinity House, green spaces opposite Nos 6-14, recessed cottages Nos 31-39 or the York Road Meeting Room leaves more privacy than a four-storey building immediately opposite. York Road has not the overall pattern of a long terrace on either side as does a Dudley or, to a slightly lesser degree, a Lime Hill Road.
"... the issue (of sunlight and daylight) has been taken into account to some extent in the overall height of buildings ..."
In effect, the proposed buildings on the sunny side of York Road were all going to be a storey higher than the houses on the opposite side of the road, thereby severely infringing upon the latters' access to light. This situation does not exist anywhere in York Road.
"Loss of trees" (page W10)
The planning officers did not adopt Policy EN1(3) as in the first refusal letter. Why not? In the debate session the officers successfully manipulated the Councillors into believing that the tree issue would not be a ground for refusal, contrary to the refusal letter of 27.01.00 and Policy EN1(3).
"Highway matters" (page W10)
"The access to the parking for visitors would be from York Road".
It is not clear where the parking for visitors is allocated.
The Residents' permits issue "must be looked at on its own merits".
Why were parking spaces for the potential residents and their visitors not restricted to the spaces allocated in the proposed development?
Density (page W10)
In the planning application the size of the Telephone House site is given as 0.307 hectare. With 43 flats on it this gives a density of 140 units per hectare for the site. However, in the report the density per hectare is given as approximately 126 which, when challenged was upped by Mrs Chambers to 135 later in the question and answer session of the Committee. Can the planning office not do this simple calculation correctly? And why not?
The historic unit density per hectare for York Road is given as 105. The bias of the Report is shown in the statement that a density of 126 units per hectare is only marginally higher than the density of the historic development of York Road. The extra units are exactly a fifth more. One cannot call this "marginally" higher.
If one looks at a historic density of 105 units per hectare, then the additional 35 units which make up the actual unit density of 140 per hectare for this site represent exactly a third over the historic density unit of 105 units in York Road alone.
And why should York Road be the historic density guideline for this site and not Church Road and Inner London Road too. After all, the site borders Church Road just as much, as that is its address. But Church Road was not used in the planning officer's computations as it has very few residents, which would have halved the density per unit figure. No objectivity here.
"Provision of recreation open space" (page W11)
"The requirement for a commuted sum in lieu of on-site provision for youth/adult recreation space".
Disclosure of figures is necessary for decision making. Why was no answer as to the figure forthcoming?
Report: "CONCLUSION" (pages W12-W14)
"Condition 17 [submitted outside the time frame]: During the demolition and construction works, there shall be no vehicular access to the site from York Road."
The word access can have two meanings depending on interpretation. It can be both access and exit as well as just access without exit. Throughout the report when access meant also exit this was mentioned expressly. However, in the case of demolition and construction traffic, the only word used by the officer was access.
The audience was left with the impression that the officers meant that no traffic was going to go through York Road during the demolition/construction period.
Exit, not being mentioned, could easily be agreed from time to time, ie that the respective demolition and construction traffic would exit through one-way York Road.
The confusion was so great that even the applicants asked to replace Condition 17.
The Report was fairly dismissive of serious concerns and the applicants' proposal was deemed to be very good in most aspects when the contrary was the case.
It was not without reason that the first application was turned down. One was left wondering why this only slightly modified one reached Planning Committee stage.
Was the Report biased? Yes, very clearly.
I got the impression that there was an urge to squeeze something into this site, never mind if it fitted. The emphasis was on squeeze, at any price.
cc: Cllr. Len Price, Chairman of Western Area Planning Committee, Tunbridge Wells
The 2nd Planning Application for the Development of Telephone House in 2000 -
Layout of blocks in comparison: present, 1st and 2nd application
The Telephone House Neighbours Association
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the development on Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1