01.05.01 - The Public Inquiry - Speech of Committee Member William Bennett

Options and Propositions - Telephone House Development, Tunbridge Wells

My name is William Bennett. I have lived in the Tunbridge Wells area since 1945 and at London Road in Tunbridge Wells for 9 years.

I thus saw the monstrosity that is Telephone House go up and I hope to live to see it removed and replaced by something more in keeping with this Conservation Area in the heart of Tunbridge Wells.

I am a member of the Telephone House Neighbours Association and I, like the other members, would support a sensitive development with up to 25 units.
Indeed I would have supported such a scheme from the beginning. In density terms this would be 82 units / hectare which is on the high side.
It would however leave more space for amenities and / or communal gardens.

May I please go back 16 months - to January 2000.

A helpful meeting took place on 19th January 2000 between representatives of the residents and of Crest Homes and their Architects Fountain, Flanagan, Briscoe.
An agenda, prepared by the residents and setting out their concerns, formed the basis of the discussions. In particular concern was expressed about the excessive number of units proposed.

Following this meeting Mr Munday of Crest Homes wrote saying that after a forthcoming meeting with Council officers to ascertain their views Crest would
"try and knit together a design solution to address as many of the points raised as possible."

The meeting between Crest and Council officers duly took place on 4th February 2000.
Unfortunately it was over a year later and only within the last few weeks that we, the residents, and indeed Councillor Len Price, Chairman of the Western Area Planning Committee, learnt that the idea of 25 units was actually suggested by representatives of Crest Homes at this meeting.
The meeting of course took place immediately after the formal notice of the rejection by Council officers and without submission to the Western Area Planning Committee, of the original planning application put in by Crest Homes.

Again unfortunately Council officers, as well as not advising Councillors of the 25 unit idea, did not enquire whether the council might be prepared to relax the affordable housing guidelines in this Conservation Area.

Indeed within a month of 4th February 2000 meeting Council officers were themselves completing a " draft development scheme design " which was intended to force " 40+ units " on to Crest Homes.

There is a further Crest file note of a second telephone conversation with Mr Legg on the 22nd February 2000 in which the latter confirmed that the 40+ unit design was complete and had been typed.

This minute also recorded Mr Legg’s dismissive views of local residents:
" View in Tunbridge is that any change is bad, even if it is for the better. " With respect this is nonsense.
It is alarming that the Conservation Strategy Officer, an employee of the Council, should seemingly so despise the views of residents and Councillors who all wanted, and still want, change but change carried out caringly.

Thus by the end of February 2000, following the above meeting and telephone conversations it must surely have been apparent to Crest that, if they were to comply with Council officers wishes and gain their support, Crest had no alternative but to put in a further planning application for 40+ units.

Inevitably as a result Crest had to ignore the wishes of local residents and ignore also most of the reasons of Council officers themselves for turning down the first application, for example the removal of significant trees - ground for refusal (4).
As it was to turn out subsequently Crest were also being forced to act contrarily to the unanimous views of Councillors sitting on the Western Area Planning Committee.

I would like to refer briefly to alternative proposals that have been mooted, namely to retain the existing building and convert it to either flats or offices. Whilst this would be viable and preferable to having the present plans accepted I sincerely hope a happy compromise can be reached.

If one reads the various reports submitted on behalf of BT and particularly that of James Thomas of Rothermel one is struck by the words used to describe it [ the present Telephone House ]:
"ugly", "raw", "crude", "without any grace", "crashingly insensitive to its neighbours", and "an affront to civilisation".

Finally I would say that whilst all members of The Telephone House Neighbours Association and I believe - all residents and Councillors must resist the present appeal - nevertheless a sensitive design for up to 25 units would receive almost universal approval from residents and Councillors.

I pray this opportunity will not be missed.

DENSITY - Cramming ? Lifestyle ?
The high density development of Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells

Whom are we dealing with? - The developers of Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells