Response from the Leader of the Council, Tunbridge Wells - Request to initiate Public Inquiry

Leader of the Council
Councillor Len Horwood
75 Farmcombe Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5DQ
Tel: 01892 537601 - e-mail:

The Telephone House Neighbours' Association
37 Church Road

29 July 2002

Dear Mrs Topliss


Thank you for your further letter on the above subject dated 8 July 2002.

I regret that I do not agree with your request to initiate a Public Inquiry. The inquiries undertaken at officer level and by the Development Control Working Party, chaired by Councillor Noakes and including representatives from all parties, have, in the opinion of the Council, examined in depth all of the issues which needed to be examined. Findings and recommendations of the Working Party have been considered and debated by the Council's Central Board and have been endorsed by the Council. More recently further work on this subject, undertaken by the Working Party, has been considered in depth by the Council's Cabinet and their recommendations were agreed at the Council meeting held on 17 July 2002.

Many of the lessons learned from the Telephone House matter are now in the process of being implemented and others are being considered in depth and developed by the Best Value study on Development Control which is in hand and, in this case, is being undertaken by an independent consultant recommended and approved by the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. An independent public inquiry of the type you are suggesting would be both expensive and time consuming and, in light of the work which has already been undertaken, my colleagues and I are not convinced that it would add to our knowledge of the matter, generate any new proposals or represent value for money.

There comes a time in all matters of this nature when one has to conclude that there is no further benefit to be gained in looking backwards and the appropriate action is to draw a line under the history, learn and implement the lessons and move on. I believe that we have now reached that time with regard to this particular issue. I accept, with regret, that you do not agree with this view and that you consider that some of your questions have not been answered or have not been answered to the level of detail you would wish. However I do not believe that your proposed way forward is appropriate or necessary and I will therefore not initiate the inquiry you have requested.

Your sincerely
Len Horwood
Leader of the Council


Comment 14 February 2003

Another tale of the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

We had not troubled to put the above letter from Councillor Len Horwood on our Internet site before now because it seemed to be a further cover up for the unexplained conduct of Council officers - a further defence of the indefensible.

We felt we were wasting our time as clearly Cllr Horwood, Leader of the Council, like his predecessor Councillor James Scholes, had no desire to force officers to answer our questions and to explain their conduct over the Telephone House debacle.

If we read again the questions put to Mr Rodney Stone, the Chief Executive, it seems incredible that Cllr Horwood as Leader would not wish either to ascertain the answers for himself or to order an independent public enquiry.

Even the Appeal Inspector’s findings of "unreasonable behaviour" by officers and the consequent award of costs against the Council (we still do not know whether this has cost ratepayers 200,000 or more or less).

We still did not persuade "our" Leader to order an enquiry. Maybe he was gullible enough to believe Mr Stone, when the latter asserted in October 2001, that officers had "done their professional duty" !! )

We have put Councillor Horwood’s letter on our Internet site now in view of the report (see The Courier on 31 January 2003) of the Audit Commission with a damming assessment of the running of the Council. The Courier on 7 February 2003 prints several letters from residents supporting the Audit Commissions findings.

Thus it is no longer merely the Appeal Inspector, our MP Archie Norman and the Telephone House Neighbours Assocation who condemn the way our Council is run. There is widespread unease over the attitude, behaviour, conduct, and ability of certain Council officers.

The Telephone House debacle is a good example of this failure. We suggest a public enquiry now will show that failings of officers lie at many levels from the top downwards.

Councillor Horwood suggests that an enquiry might not "add to our knowledge of the matter, generate any new proposals or represent value for money."

We make 3 points: -

  1. If Mr Stone and others are now made to answer the questions we have put to them our knowledge will be monumentally enhanced.

  2. We are not looking for new proposals. We are concerned with the conduct and actions of the past - and the need for the Council to employ efficient officers who will answer for their actions.

  3. Whatever the cost of an enquiry it will surely be value for money if it avoids

We do not believe the failure of Council officers should be treated as a party political matter. Surely the time has come for Councillor Horwood with the support of all Councillors irrespective of party, to set up an independent public enquiry?

If Councillors cannot control their own officers and put their own house in order then we must expect that a hit squad from Whitehall will have to do the job.

THNA docs "... the Borough Council having expended a very significant amount of public money to no result ..."
April 2003, 2 years after the appeal - What is the nature of the negotiations between TWBC and Crest Nicholson?
What can possibly be demanded and what is offered?

THNA 2001 - What went wrong with the Telephone House Planning Applications ?
The uneasy questions to the Chief Executive Rodney Stone and other senior officers of TWBC

THNA 2002 - List of questions to Len Horwood, Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
Request to initiate a Public Inquiry: "Attitude and Conduct of certain officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council"

Press A guide through the Local Press since August 2000 - "The Telephone House Debacle"

contents The Telephone House Neighbours Association informs on CALA Homes (South) Development :
CALA Group acquired the controversial planning permission for the high density development of Telephone House site, Church Road / York Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN1, Kent.