Notes from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Western Area Planning Committee Meeting, Wednesday, 18 October 2000

TWBC Western Area Planning Committee decided to refuse BT's/Crest Nicholson's joint planning application for Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells

Location:- Tunbridge Wells Town Hall, Council Chambers
Planning Application:- TW/00/01480/CAC/RCC & TW/00/01474/FUL/RCC
Planning Description:- Demolition and redevelopment of Telephone House, Church Road, Tunbridge Wells.


The purpose of the meeting was to enable the Western Area Planning Committee of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to assess the merits of the above planning application and pass or reject the plans as they saw fit.

Meeting content

After a summary of the application was presented by Ruth Chambers, a Planning Officer working for TWBC, Annemarie Topliss, a resident of York Road, presented the case from the residentsí perspective.
In summary, the argument presented by the residents focused around the density of the proposed development. The development recommends density levels at three times the government guidelines set out in PPG3 and RPG9. If density of the development could be restrained argued Mrs Topliss, the subsidiary problems which include construction, parking, amenities, environment (tree destruction) and utilities would be less of an issue as at present.

After Annemarie Topliss spoke, the applicants put forward their case. Three people spoke; they were a partner from Barton Willmore, who specialise in planning advice to applicants, the architect himself, Trevor Sutter, and a representative from Crest Homes.

Barton Willmore answered some general queries from the planning committee around the construction phase. It is apparent that construction traffic will have to use the tiny York Road as well as Church Road, something that clearly worries York Road residents. * There was a discussion around PPG3 and what the implications were. Barton Willmore put forward the interpretation that these guidelines apply to green field and brown field sites and therefore the density levels could be interpreted in the liberal way that the application from Crest Homes has chosen to pursue.

The architect, Trevor Sutter answered some technical questions around the form of the single block on Church Road. The committee wanted to understand why the block was built as one, rather than two blocks.

Finally, a representative from Crest Homes explained that the alternative to the development in its present form was some form of refurbishment of the existing Telephone House. In a peculiar statement, he seemed to infer that this would be undesirable and therefore the Council should pass the application in its current form. The Committee pointed out that they should look at the application as a stand alone site and deal with the application on its own merits, rather than get sidetracked with alternatives. After all, their role is to look at the value of applications put before them and nothing more.

After these sessions, the committee asked questions of their planning officers and debated the merits of the application amongst themselves. There was substantial opposition to the application amongst the Committee members, it was described by one member as "mass development in its worst form" and there were substantial worries about the impact the application could have on the environment. The Committee recognised the duty it owed to the town to ensure the development that is finally accepted is the right development. There were significant issues the Committee had with the application in its current form. Unanimously, the 14 seat committee rejected the application.

The application was rejected on the same grounds as the initial application in January, 2000. Specifically, the January application was rejected on four grounds. The first two grounds in this instance were seen as relevant. They are:-

  1. The proposal would have a significant adverse impact on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area by virtue of its scale, massing, roofscape, form, spatial characteristics, elevational treatment, building lines and impact on trees. It would, therefore, be contrary to policies WK2, ENV15 and ENV17 of the Kent Structure Plan and Policies EN1(2), EN5 and EN6 of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan 1996.

  2. The proposal would have an adverse impact on the setting of listed buildings in York Road and Church Road and would, therefore be contrary to Policy ENV19 of the Kent Structure Plan 1996 and Policy EN3 of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan 1996.

There was agreement that the following two reasons for rejection be dropped. This is not something that the residents agree with. The reasons now dropped are:-

  1. The proposed block 2 would have an overbearing impact on the amenities of No. 27 York Road; the east facing elevation of the proposed Block 3 would have an unsatisfactory relationship with the existing building to the east, resulting in low levels of privacy and an overbearing effect; and the close proximity of both blocks to York Road would have an overbearing impact on the residential amenities of the dwellings opposite. The proposal is therefore contrary to Policy EN1(1) of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan 1996.

  2. The proposal would involve the removal of significant trees which would be contrary to Policy EN1(3) of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan 1996.

Next Steps

Residents are obviously relieved that the Planning Committee has rejected the plans to redevelop the Telephone House site for a second time. The development, residents believe is an over development at a scale which will have significant environmental impact upon the local community.

Residents will now seek clarification on PPG3 and the interpretation of density. A comparison to a development that was accepted in the town at a density level similar to the rejected plans was made. This development is not in a residential area. The impact therefore on the community is not significant. The density issue remains central to the development of the site. After all, it is this issue which creates the other issues highlighted in the residents of York Road web site.

P. M. 19.10.00

N. B.

* Condition (17) of the Recommendation in the Report of the Planning and Building Control Services Manager:
" During the demolition and construction works, there shall be no vehicular access to the site from York Road "

Annemarie Topliss addressed the controversiality of this condition as it did not mention where the exit traffic from the site would be directed.

The developers tried to submit a replacement to the condition (17), but the case officer confirmed, condition (17) would stay in place as is.

The Members of the Western Area Planning Committee, Tunbridge Wells (during 2000/2001)

The 2nd Planning Application for the Development of Telephone House

Whom are we dealing with ? - The developers of Telephone House, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1.

In July 2001, the Planning Inspector allowed the appeal and granted planning permission
In April 2002, CALA Homes bought the Telephone House site and took over BT's/Crest Nicholson's planning consent.