01.05.01 - The Public Inquiry - Speech of Vice-Chairman Heather Jones

Density, Footprint and related matters - Telephone House Development, Tunbridge Wells

My Name is Heather Jones, I live in York Road, I am the Vice-Chairman of the Telephone House Neighbours Association. I speak for myself and on their behalf.

We heard yesterday of the months of negotiations between the appellant and the Council officers.
10 meeting were mentioned.

  1. I would just like to clarify that at no point during this intensive period for negotiations was the local community involved.

  2. This appeal concerns the proposed development of the 4 blocks of residential dwellings on the Telephone House site.
    We do not therefore understand why so much of the argument has centred on the monstrosity of the existing structure.
    We are all in agreement that the Telephone House needs to go. But this appeal is about what is proposed to replace it.
    A side point to this has been the concentration of the 1982 planning permission to extend the office buildings we failed to see its relevance to the proposal in front of us.

  3. The appellant were at great pains yesterday to state that - density - traffic - parking - loss of light - overlooking and trees had not formed part of the Committee’s refusal.
    It is therefore interesting to note the efforts of the appellant to negate these concerns - Mr. McCreery was even commissioned to produce a new density study, which was only made available yesterday.
    Dudley Road - flats do not meet the standard of modern accommodation.
    Why would it be desirable to cram more high density into an area where this problem already exists.
    We cannot take more high density!

In his Introduction to his Proof of Evidence Paul McCreery lists the grounds of refusal for the application in appeal. He then goes on to explain (1.1.2) that:
"I also note that the reasons for refusal do not relate to other aspects of the scheme, for example, access and traffic considerations, density, residential amenity, loss of trees, or the amount of car parking."
Incidentally these points he has listed are the neigbours association points which he was obviously trying to remove from the discussion.

I have to disagree with Mr McCreery. The planning committee denied permission on the following grounds;- "Scale, massing, roofscape, form, spatial characteristics, elevational treatment and building lines." Their concern therefore was obviously one of visual quality. The 4 blocks were deemed "overbearing". All of the points raised by the committee are as a direct result of trying to build such a large number of flats on the site and are a direct result of this density. As such density directly or indirectly did form part of the committees refusal.

Fewer flats would have allowed the developers more scope to offer an acceptable design and a less imposing footprint. There would have been space on the proposed site for something other than concrete and the buildings would not have had to "tower" over their near neighbours, trees would not have to be removed and many of the other local concerns would have been reduced or removed altogether.

The original feasibility study by Sutters Partnership in April 2000 stated "the overriding requirement is the avoidance of isolated, massive, dense blocks, not just in a 2 dimensional plan aspect, but in the overall mass and modeling of the build form. Large footprints and expansive rooflines are considered to be out of keeping with the townscape "grain". Smaller cohesive buildings or terraces, complimentary to the proportion and scale of adjacent buildings are preferred"

Well the planning committee was faced with a proposal that offered massive, dense blocks with a large footprint, out of keeping with adjacent buildings. There was no sign of any smaller cohesive blocks and they quite correctly denied permission for the development.

Density - what is acceptable?

PPG3 - § 58

58. Local planning authorities should therefore:

- avoid developments which make inefficient use of land (those of less than 30 dwellings per hectare net - see definitions at Annex C);

- encourage housing development which makes more efficient use of land (between 30 and 50 dwellings per hectare net); and

- seek greater intensity of development at places with good public transport accessibility such as city, town, district and local centres or around major nodes along good quality public transport corridors

It is regrettably only a guideline and one that we can all agree is interpreted differently by most of the "professionals" who adhere to it.

Crest Homes themselves originally envisage 25 units on this site (82 dwellings per hectare) which would have marked the site as one falling under para 2 of the PPG but still a long way from the ridiculous 140 we are faced with today. (In reading their submission it is apparent that they pressured for the drive for affordable housing which will also be dealt with later)

As an exercise we have reviewed other "prime " developments sites within 1 mile of central Tunbridge Wells. I give you copies of our research for you information.

It becomes very apparent that there is a marked variation in the densities proposed at all of these sites many of which would also be deemed to fall within paragraph 2 of the PPG. I do not propose going in to these at great length because I believe they speak for themselves but would just like to highlight the following points. Only 4 including Telephone House have densities greater than 80 units per hectare and only I other site has a density of over 100 units per hectare. This is the Honeygrove properties site at the Vale Road post office. A site that has none of the neighbouring residential concerns that are apparent on York Road.

It is also very interesting to see how many of these sites have densities below 50 units per hectare

  1. Mr McCreery also misquotes residents by saying we think the site should have 16 units only. This was never our point. We and the hundreds of other TW residents who support us believe that to build 140 units per hectare nearly 3 times PPG guide on such a sensitive site in a conservation area is blatent overbuilding. The original report submitted by the planning officers and the developers have made light of the "knock on effect" on local amenities but we believe strongly they are there to see. All our attempts to highlight these have simply been ignored.

  2. A final point on this map is site number 9 - the Eridge road site. We would like to quote Barton Willmore’s comments with regard to Density on this site. "The Eridge road site is well served with existing bus routes into the centre, local authorities should encourage housing development which makes more efficient use of land (between 30 and 50 units)" He was therefore happy to see this site at 51.7 units to the hectare.

  3. On behalf of York Road, Church Road and London road residents I would like to conclude by saying that if Barton Willmore had used the same logic at the somewhat more locationally sensitive telephone house site, none of us would need to be in this room today.

    DENSITY - cramming ? lifestyle ?
    The high density development of Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells