04.05.01 - The Public Inquiry - Summary Speech of the Chairman Peter Morse

A Summary of the issues raised by The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells


My name is Peter Morse, I am a resident of York Road, I am also Chairman of the Telephone House Neighbours Assocation.

The purpose of my speaking here today is to briefly summarise the points made to you by fellow residents and to also offer a potential way forward.

Our Principal argument has always been Density

Density has been and will continue to be the main issue we have with the proposed plans from Crest Nicholson in the development of the Telephone House site.

Density is critical to the argument. Indeed, existing high density levels within York Road are recognised by residents. But, as has been explained earlier by fellow members of our Neighbours Association, the development of Telephone House simply intensifies the problem, moving density levels up to those more akin to larger inter cities such as Glasgow or Birmingham, rather than a small suburban town such as Tunbridge Wells. The PPG guidelines have been ignored by planners and developers.

We have highlighted to you through our own research that demonstrates recent density levels of developments within the town. However, the Telephone House development would take Tunbridge Wells to significant new records of density. Where is the sanity in this? Look at the problems it creates? What is the rationale other than corporate greed and / or bad or misplaced advice from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council?

Frankly, if the proposals suggested had been planned to an acceptable level of density, many of the other issues that we have raised would never have been factors in objecting to the proposed development.

Before I begin my summary I would like to remind you of the frustrations we have felt as residents. These frustrations particularly relate to the planning application process and the level of information provided to residents. We feel that the whole process has been managed in an underhand way with the information not being supplied first hand, but instead requiring considerable tenacity on the part of residents to find out the truth.

For example, at the time of the first application, planning notices were placed in Church Road only and not York Road. Why? One can only assume a desire to minimised local interference was preferred, so publicising the application at the legal minimum was the chosen option.

At various meetings held between Planning Officers and the residents, no mention was made of proposed plans and suggestions from Crest Nicholson to build a development of just 25 units. Why was this information never forthcoming, until extremely late in the day? Clearly, planning officers had another agenda, despite several meeting with residents. It is ironic, but the Prime Minister and his Cabinet talk of "open government". This appears to be a value ignored by the Planning Officers of Tunbridge Wells.

Extremely early during the application phase for the first proposal, I was party to a meeting between the developers and their original architect. At that meeting Crest Homes’ representatives Ken Munday, clearly said to us that the views of residents would be considered. We were delighted with this outcome, because we had no reason to take this statement at anything other than face value.

Sadly, this intention was never fully achieved. Crest Nicholson, their architects and Tunbridge Wells Planning Officers invited us to one meeting. This meeting was led by the Civic Society’s Chairman. It ended abruptly, with our opportunities to contribute completely ignored. This meeting was never minuted.

The Civic Society, other than some issues over particular facets of design seemed broadly in agreement with the plans. They have chosen not to speak at this Inquiry. For whatever reason. Crest Nicholson chose to continue with their plans for development without any consultation with residents. (Except for one occasion, when a request was made to see their documentation for the second planning committee meeting). Did Crest Nicholson assume the Civic Society and residents were the same body?

Or simply is it a case of Crest Nicholson believing that the Civic Society were in agreement with their plans, so the job of influencing the community was therefore completed? Why were the views of residents ignored? Whey were we shut out? We have been articulate, rational and objective at every stage, yet the developers chose to ignore us throughout the planning process, breaking their initial promise to us.

Sir, I know you have heard a lot from various parties over the last few days, but quickly and succinctly I would like to take this opportunity to summarise our objections to the redevelopment of Telephone House.

Objections are as follows: -

I would like to draw some Conclusions now if I may

Clearly many of these issues would be of far less consequence if the density of the development was less.

Twice the Council rejected two very similar plans from Crest Nicholson. The reasons for these rejections have been documented and presented to you already. After the second rejection we were of course delighted that the Councillors unanimously agreed with the points that we made. We were extremely unhappy however with the conclusion of the meeting. It appeared that Officers pushed Councillors into not fully expressing the full reasons for rejection. Many reasons were debated, only tow were included in the second refusal notice.

You have heard much over recent days about the ugliness and unsightliness of Telephone House. On this we are all agreed. However, it concerns us that focus is on what exists now, rather than the plans proposed. The implication is that anything is better than Telephone House. Tunbridge Wells made a bad mistake three decades ago with the construction of Telephone House.

Two wrongs clearly do not make a right! Everyone concerned with the area owes it to the town to ensure the plot is developed sympathetically considering all issues. The existing development misses the mark completely. Would the town have to wait another 30 years to get it right?

As residents we have worked extremely hard to present our case. We are not alone in having the views that we do. Hundreds of residents of the town, and I mean hundreds have written to us with their support. We are motivated and feel extremely passionate about this issue for a very simple reason and it is this.

It is not that we oppose change. How could we when we know that Telephone House is an eyesore? It is because of the fact that the proposed alternative is a significantly worse option to what already exists. It would massively impact upon the quality of life that we lead.

As a Neighbours Association we are positive about the future and keen to improve and enhance the community we live in. We were amazed when we heard that an initial development of 25 units was discussed. That sort of development could have been workable. With that sort of density many of the issues I have mentioned here would be far less significant.

I would like to end by asking Crest Nicholson and their advisors Barton Willmore a simple question: Are you prepared to create genuinely alternative plans for the site at a density level of 25 units and work with residents to achieve this? If the answer is yes, we are prepared to listen.

Thank you.

4 May 2001

Peter Morse