06.05.2001 - Press release - The Public Inquiry

The uncertain future of Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells

The Public Inquiry over Crest Nicholsonís and BTís proposed development of Telephone House has ended last Friday after four days of hearing and cross-examination.
The government Inspector must take away the evidence gathered and decide the way forward.
Some weeks from now, we will know the future of this prime site. Worryingly, this future may not be for the better of the town and its immediate community.

Certain issues are clear however. The developers believe the site is extremely profitable. Why else would they appeal against two rejections by local planning authority? Why else would they employ a range of professional advisors, including one of the Britainís top barristers to present their case?

Members of Telephone House Neighbours Association spoke at the inquiry highlighting the deficiencies in the developerís case. Supported by local Councillors and by Tunbridge Wells MP, Archie Norman, together an argument was put forward to the Inspector that provided a third dimension, different from that presented by the developers and the Planning Officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

In brief, residents objections to the development include:-

  • Proposed density levels are an exaggerated interpretation of government guidelines.
  • Planned density levels for Telephone House exceed all existing developments in Tunbridge Wells
  • Loss of light and privacy to York Road residents will create a new meaning to "neighbourhood watch"
  • Lack of parking in the proposal is bound to over spill onto already overcrowded streets.
  • The mass and scale of the development will provide no physical and visual amenities to the community.
  • The closing of the open spaces in York Road will be similar to a high walled tunnel.
  • No survey of utilities capacity to cope has been undertaken.
  • A contribution by the developers towards education has been rebutted on grounds that the local Development Plan does not contain a policy to this.
  • Evidence submitted by the developer depicted the conservation area as a "shanty town". The implication is that any development can only enhance the area.
  • The use of the narrow one way York Road by demolition and construction traffic will cause traffic delays and damage to existing buildings.
  • All future access is proposed via York Road only, completely ignoring that eventually all this traffic has at some stage to pass A26.
  • An expert witnessed that important trees in York Road would need to be felled to give the street an "urban feel", like Kensington or Chelsea.
  • The block proposed on Church Road is in reality only 3 meters lower than the existing Telephone House. The roof line would need to drop a further 4 meter to be congruent with listed neighbouring buildings.
  • The view from Mount Ephraim will therefore not restore Trinity Church as a landmark.

Poor quality of information provided by Tunbridge Wells planning officers meant that residents were not informed fully of decisions and meetings that had taken place and therefore were weakening the residentsí case.

Throughout the inquiry, the developers suggested that the alternative to their plans was to convert the existing Telephone House into residential apartments. The implication being, the community should accept the development plans because the alternatives would be worse!

The Telephone House Neighbours Association has always stressed that they are not anti-change. How could they be when clearly Telephone House is such an eye sore. However, they have argued logically and rationally that the alternative must be a development that adds genuinely to the quality of the Conservation Area and provides an enhancement to the look and feel of the town centre. Residents for all the reasons outlined above believe that the current plans will not do this and in fact close to 800 other people from Tunbridge Wells have written to the Association expressing their support for the Associationís cause. The residents realise that all planning guidelines had been exploited by the appellant to the maximum, with one exception: The Urban White Paper, saying: people have a right to determine their future and be involved in deciding how their town or city develops!

The town has a one off opportunity to significantly improve the fabric of the town centre and enhance the quality of life of the local community. Whatever the outcome of this appeal; the Association wishes to remind BT of one of their best advertising slogans: Itís good to talk!

Peter Morse
The Telephone House Neighbours Association