02.05.01 - The Public Inquiry - Speech of Member George Lawson

The Trees on Telephone House site, Tunbridge Wells


  1. I am Commander G V Lawson owner and occupier of London Road, Tunbridge Wells for the past 22 years, and resident of Tunbridge Wells for past 33 years.

  2. I, like many others who reside in the immediate vicinity of Telephone House, am by no means opposed to the replacement of this office block with a building more in keeping with the character of this historic conservation area. Indeed we had high hopes that the Crest Homes proposal would result in just such a building being constructed. However, any building that is put up on this site must, in our view, blend in with existing scene and not dominate and overshadow the locality as the present proposed design would clearly do.
    Furthermore, any development should not be allowed to sweep away important natural features that contribute greatly to the general ambience of this conservation area.

  3. I oppose this application for planning consent because I believe it to be, fundamentally, a gross over development. There are many facets of the proposed design that lead me to this conclusion. However, as I am aware that other speakers will be dealing with many of them I am confining my submission to the matter of the ten mature Trees that line the York Road boundary of the Telephone House site.

  4. These ten trees, 4 White Beam, 3 Maple and 3 Walnut, were planted as a condition of a former planning application No 82/0448, in the early 1980s. The reason for imposing the condition was "to protect and enhance the appearance of the site and locality."
    It can be seen from the photographs I now produce, that, 20 years on, the object of those who made that condition of planning consent, has been amply achieved.
    We, the residents of the area have good reason to be grateful to those responsible for that decision because these trees have matured into a natural screen that much enhances the character of this important area of the Town. It is the view of the local residents that any development of this site must incorporate the existing valuable natural features - 20 year old trees cannot be replaced by alternative planting and in any event the proposed development does not include any trees along the York Road boundary.

  5. Whilst what I have said so far represents the views of myself and many others who reside in the York Road/London Road/ Church Road area, the need to conserve and incorporate existing natural features in new developments forms an important part of planning rules and guidelines at National, County and Local levels:

    1. In PPG3 (52) the Government attached particular importance to the greening of residential environments stating "....landscaping should be an integral part of new developments and opportunities should be taken for the retention of existing trees and shrubs".

    2. The Director of Operational Services of TWBC in a recent letter to a resident confirmed that the TWBC had adopted the Kent design guide as a material consideration in planning. This guide states:

      10.2 New developments should respond to site characteristics and minimise any impacts.

      10.2.1 Conserve or enhance existing natural features

      10.2.2 Features of landscape importance or nature conservation value should be retained

    3. The TWBC Conservation Area Appraisal, approved as recently as 16th November, 2000, contains a passage which reads
      "In PPG3 (52) the Government attached particular importance to the greening of residential environments".
      It is reasonable to suppose that the Western Area Planning Committee had this in mind when they refused this planning application currently under enquiry.
      Indeed, the advice received by the Planning Committee members from their planning officers when this development first appeared on their agenda was as follows:
      "The proposal would involve the removal of significant trees which would be contrary to Policy EN1 (3) of the TWBC Local Plan."
      This was one of the reasons why the first application for planning consent for this development was refused.

  6. Given that the second revised application differed very little from the first it is difficult to understand what had changed that lead Planning Department Officials to do a "U" turn that states that these very same trees that were one of the main reasons for their opposition to the first planning application were now "unimportant and have little significance in the overall town landscape".
    Suddenly preserving the building line is more important than the preservation of the natural features of the area. This is especially difficult to accept as it flies in the face of all the Town Council's recently stated policy and the guidance received from both County Council and National Government.
    The desire to preserve the building line at all costs might be more understandable if this objective had been incorporated in some national or local government policy or guidelines. It would also help to understand the thinking behind the desire to uproot these fine trees if there were a clearly defined building line on this side of York Road. Examination of York Road will reveal that only about half of the length of the Telephone House side of the Road is built up, there are several substantial gaps and the first six buildings (from the London Road End) are some 20 feet back from the road.
    In truth there is no clear building line and the appellants, in their submissions, have not demonstrated any good reason why, the restoration of what they choose to regard as the building line, is a valid reason for disregarding and overriding both National and Local Government policy and guidelines on the subject of the retention of natural features.

  7. The appellants also seek to play down the significance of the York Road trees by drawing attention to the fact that an application for a Tree Preservation Order was made for these trees and was refused.
    It is not surprising that the Council official concerned turned down the application for a tree preservation order as to grant it would have undermined his own department's efforts to support the revised planning application not-with-standing its refusal by the Western Area Planning Committee.
    It is perhaps significant that the elected representatives who form the Western Area Planning Committee were not invited to consider this matter!

  8. One cannot help but conclude that the important matter of the preservation of natural features of York Road has been deliberately downgraded by both Crest Homes Planning Consultants and Council Officers in an effort to gain approval for a proposed development that clearly does not conform to the current rules.

  9. Given the international fears over the effect of deforestation on the environment the loss of any trees is a matter for great concern. When, as in this case, the destruction of these trees results in the loss of public amenity and damage to the ambience of an important conservation area it is nothing short of public vandalism.


The tree-lined York Road in Spring 2001

There was once a group of TREES on Telephone House site
between Trinity House and No. 27 York Road

January 2003 - CALA Homes move in -
felling of amenity trees and demolition site set-up for Telephone House