Appeal - Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells
Crest Nicholson Plc and BT's Southgate Developments Ltd versus Tunbridge Wells Borough Council



TUNBRIDGE WELLS BOROUGH COUNCIL
PROOF OF EVIDENCE


BY MRS RUTH CHAMBERS,
BA (Hons), MRTPI
AREA TEAM LEADER,
WESTERN DEVELOPMENT CONTROL TEAM
March 2001




Appeal by
Crest Homes (South East) Ltd and Southgate Developments Ltd
against
Refusal of Consent for demolition of existing building and erection of 43 flats with basement level parking
- Site of Telephone House, Church Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Local planning authority Reference: TW/00/01474
Planning Inspectorate Reference: APP/M2270/A/00/1054946



Introduction

My name is Ruth Chambers. I have a BA (Hons) Degree in Town Planning and am a Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

I am the Area Team Leader in Development Control for the Western part of the Borough, which includes the appeal site. I have been employed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in the Planning and Building control Services for the past 20 years. I have been familiar with the appeal site for all of that time and have dealt with various planning applications on this and other sites in the area. I was the case officer for the application that is the subject of this appeal.

The views expressed in my Proof of Evidence are intended to reflect those of the Members of the Committee and are not necessarily my own. *


  1. THE APPLICATION

    1. The appellant has submitted a Statement of Common Ground dated March 2001 that sets out a description of the site and surrounding area, the relevant planning history of the site, and details of the appeal proposals. This includes a list of drawings and a brief history of negotiation in the course of dealing with the application. I confirm that these are all areas of common ground.
    2. The history set out in the Statement includes reference to application TW/80/0375. I have considered the status of this application as part of my Proof. Having investigated this to the best of my ability, I can find no evidence that conditions were complied with before the ‘start’ was made. In addition, I have not personally been able to find any evidence of any trench. I am not therefore prepared to say that the consent is still extant.
    3. Notwithstanding the above, I further considered that my view would be about the relevance of the application if the consent were still extant. Whereas this would be a material consideration in dealing with any subsequent proposal, due to the time elapsed and the remote likelihood of implementation, I consider that very little weight should be given to this.

  2. THE ISSUES

    1. The issues in relation to this appeal are set out in the Borough Council’s two grounds for refusal in the Decision Notice.
    2. These are explained and expanded in the proof of Peter Ashby, the Council’s Conservation Architect.

  3. BACKGROUND TO DEALING WITH THE PLANNING APPLICATION

    1. The application was the subject of discussion and negotiations with the appellant as set out in the Statement of Common Ground. The dialogue continued until a few says before the committee meeting on 18th October 200 at which this application was reported to committee. The appellants had stressed to Officers the importance, from their point of view, of the application being considered at that meeting.
    2. The committee report is in the name of the Planning and Building Control Services Manager, in common with similar planning application reports to the Western Area Planning Committee. I was, as mentioned above, the case officer for this application. It was one of my tasks to bring together all the views of internal and external consultees and to assess the application in the light of these was well as all other material considerations. This was done in consultation with and agreement of the Development Control Manager and the Planning and Building Control Services Manager.
    3. Following the above, I drafted a report to Committee. I consider that the report sets out clearly Officers’ considerations and conclusions in relation to the application. **
      In particular, the appraisal sets out the specific matters which were considered to be the main issues to be assessed and balanced in reaching a decision. It is my view, that this appraisal reflects the complex issued involved and recognises the range and importance of the various interests involved. The conclusion by officers, having taken all these matters into account was that permission should be granted subject to a suitable legal agreement and subject to conditions.
    4. Members of the Western Area Planning committee visited the application site on the day of the committee. I outlined the proposals that were viewed from both Church Road and York Road.
    5. At the committee meeting, following my presentation of the proposals, Members asked various questions of Officers. Following submissions by interested parties, they then conducted a full discussion of the merits or otherwise of the proposals, largely stemming from the issues raised in the appraisal and comments made by others.
    6. Members resolved to refuse planning permission for the reasons set out in the Decision Notice.
    7. I consider that this approach and outcome were entirely in accordance with Planning Policy Guidance Note 1. In particular, Members took into account relevant views expressed by neighbouring occupiers and have good reasons based on land use planning grounds, for choosing to resist Officers’ advice - (paragraphs 60 and 61).
    8. The grounds for refusal of this planning application are, as mentioned above, dealt with in detail by Mr Ashby. However, it is also important to set out the general approach taken by Members in relation to the matters considered relevant when determining this application.
    9. The committee report sets out in the Appraisal on page W8, the key areas for consideration. Some of these are dealt with in Mr Ashby’s proof or the Statement of Common Ground. I list below these matters and, where applicable, a brief conclusion in relation to the Council’s position on each.

      • Dealt with in Mr Ashby’s proof

        - The Effect on the Conservation Area
        - Impact on the Setting of the Listed Buildings
        - Loss of Trees fronting York Road

      • Dealt with in Statement of Common Ground

        - Provision of Affordable Housing
        - Provision of Recreation Open Space
        - Impact on Residential Amenities
        - Provision of Commuted Sum to take account of Additional Demand for School Places arising from the Development
        - Loss of employment/commercial use

      • Other Matters

        - Highway Matters
        As set out in the Statement of Common Ground, it is considered that the level of parking provision is acceptable given this town centre location. The location of the parking spaces and access to these from Church Road and York Road in the proportion proposed as also considered acceptable.

        - Density
        The proposed density is significantly higher than the existing adjacent residential area which works out at approximately 105 dwellings per hectare. The committee report unfortunately refers to the density of the proposed development as 126 persons per hectare. It would actually be approximately 140 persons. This was corrected at the committee meeting and is confirmed in the Statement of Common Ground.

        It was acknowledged by Members at the Committee meeting that whilst there is a specific encouragement for seeking higher densities in town centre locations, this cannot be to the exclusion of other considerations. Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 makes clear the importance of ‘good quality design and layout of new development’ (para 5.4) but also states that ‘local planning authorities and developers should think imaginatively about designs and layouts which make more efficient use of land without compromising the quality of the environment’. Paragraph 56 however requires that ‘new housing development should not be viewed in isolation. Considerations of design and layout must be informed by the wider context, having regard not just to any immediate neighbouring buildings but the townscape and landscape of the wider locality. The local pattern of streets and spaces, building traditions materials and ecology should all help to determine the character and identity of a development’.

        The appeal proposal would result in a density significantly higher than the existing surrounding residential density - approximately a third more. I consider that this high density made a significant contribution to Members’ concerns about the development and the two grounds of refusal. In particular, the density proposed (the number and floor area of flats) resulted in the size of buildings and coverage of the site applied for. Although the importance and relevance of PPG3 in dealing with this application is acknowledged, this particular proposal failed to meet Members’ objections in relation to respecting the existing context in this important town centre site.

  4. CONCLUSION

    1. The Borough Council gave full consideration of all the issues relating to the planning application which is the subject of this appeal. Members resolved to refuse permission for the grounds set out in the Decision Notice and as clarified and expanded in this proof and Mr Ashby’s Proof.
    2. Notwithstanding the above, if the Secretary of State or his appointed representative is minded to allow the appeal, he is asked to consider the imposition of conditions relating to the matters set out in Appendix 1 to this Proof.

  5. DOCUMENTS

    1. The documents referred to in this written statement may be inspected at the Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN11RS during normal office hours, ie Mondays to Fridays 08.30 to 17.00 hours excluding public holidays.


*
Members of the Western Area Planning Committee were not consulted for this Proof of Evidence and did not hold any copy of it before submission to the Inspectorate.
- Therefore "the views expressed" cannot truly be those of the Members.
- In pointing this out the witness cannot be seen as loyal to the decisions taken by the Local Planning Authority.


**
The report to the Committee on 18 Oct 2000 was analysed by The Telephone House Neighbours Assocation as one-sided, biased and contained many errors.



The Appeal - Crest Nicholson Plc / Southgate Developments versus TWBC

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells