TUNBRIDGE WELLS BOROUGH LOCAL PLAN REVIEW INQUIRY
PROOF OF EVIDENCE presented by the Local Planning Authority
Objection to Policy H6(a) Allocation of Land at Telephone House for Residential Use
4 February 2004
Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan Review
Public Local Inquiry
Inspector Miss L.Graham BSc MA MRTPI
Assistant Inspector: Ms S. Morgan LLB (Hons), MA, Solicitor
Programme Officer: Mr John Leslie
c/o Town Hall, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN1 1RS
My Ref: JPL/PR.P
Date: 4 February, 2004
Response: Objection to Policy H6(a) Allocation of Land at Telephone House for Residential Use
I refer to the above matter and to your letter of 29th June, 2003 relating to objections to Policy H6(a) Allocation of Land at Telephone House for Residential Use in relation to your appearance at the Public Local Inquiry on Tuesday 2nd March, 2004.
I now enclose the Borough Council's response to the points that you have made. Details of the procedure for the consideration of objections are given in the Guidance Notes for Objectors, a copy of which has previously been circulated to you.
A copy of the Borough Council's response has also been passed to the Inspector appointed by the First Secretary of State to consider objections to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan Review.
TUNBRIDGE WELLS BOROUGH LOCAL PLAN Review Inquiry
OBJECTION to Policy H6(a) Allocation of Land at Telephone House for Residential Use
Objection Nos. D1/610/1/1, D2/610/1/1, D2/610/1/2
Telephone House Neighbours Association
Proof of evidence presented on behalf of the Local Planning Authority
WITNESS: Ms Gill Harris BSc(Hons) MPhil MRTPI
TW/PR6/D1/610/1/1, D2/610/1/1, D2/610/1/1
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
PROOF OF EVIDENCE
Policy H6(a) (of Deposit Copy 2001), Telephone House, Church Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Table 2.
D1/60/15/1, D1/68/1/1, D1/434/3/1, D1/528/22/1, D1/610/1/1, D2/610/1/1.D1/610/1/2
Selection if Housing Allocation Sites
The methodology for selection of sites for housing land allocation is set out in Topic Paper 2: Housing - Selection of Sites (Core Document No. 1.57).
Section 2.1 of this document sets out the planning policy context for this and notes that PPG3 (March 2000) is a key consideration. This requires Local Planning Authorities to follow a sequence of search for housing land starting with the re-use of previously developed land and buildings within urban areas, which should be identified by means of an urban housing capacity study. No guidance is included in the PPG3 as to what size of sites should be allocated in Local Plans and what should be left to come forward as windfall or unidentified previously developed sites.
However, PPG3 is supplemented by a number of good practice guidance notes including "Tapping the Potential - Assessing Urban Housing Capacity: Towards Better Practice" which was published in December 2000. This provided context and guidance for the Tunbridge Wells Urban Capacity Study. "Tapping the Potential" does give some guidance on the identification of brownfield sites for allocation for residential use. Section 2 of the good practice guide on identifying previously developed land and buildings (page 10, third para) states: "Large Sites These have typically been defined as over 0.4ha although this varies. Some local flexibility on the size criterion is not inappropriate given, for example in the centre of a large city there may be few sites over 0.4ha, whereas in former industrial areas sites over 0.4 ha could be commonplace. If the capacity study is to focus only on 'large'sites, it is important that the threshold chosen does not rule out of consideration significant sources of capacity.
It is preferable for a full survey of site potential to be conducted, including within its scope small vacant and derelict sites. This is something which most studies have sought to do."
As a consequence, the Borough Council's urban capacity study sought to include as many potential brownfield sites as possible, in accordance with both the good practice guide and PPG3 on the sequential search for housing land allocations. The 0.4-hectare guideline was treated as approximate and potential allocation sites close to this were the subject of further research for suitability for allocation. Page 13 para 1 of the Tunbridge Wells Urban Capacity Study makes this clear: "Following preliminary assessment, sites of approximately 0.4 hectares were short-listed for allocation for housing allocations in the Local Plan Review and subjected to further investigation to establish the likely housing capacity for the site."
The nature of the housing land supply in Tunbridge Wells is that there is a good supply of previously developed land, but it does tend to come forward on small sites. This is documented in Topic Paper 6: Affordable Housing (Core Document No. 1.62, para 4.13 and Appendix 7). As a consequence, sites were not automatically discarded without further research solely because they were less than 0.4 hectares. In the event, there were in fact no other brownfield sites of similar size to Telephone House which were considered to be available for housing use within the Local Plan Review period. The smaller sites were therefore left to come forward as unidentified previously developed sites as and when circumstances changed, through the operation of Policy H5 and the development control process. Such sites are included within the outstanding consents category of Table 2 of the Local Plan when they have achieved planning permission (including outline permissions).
The Telephone House site had already been vacated by the time initial research had commenced for the Urban Capacity Study (during 1999 - 2000). The site was measured for these purposes at just over 0.32 ha. Although slightly under the 0.4 ha guideline, it the site was included in the Urban Capacity Study for further research and eventually in the Local Plan Review as a housing allocation for the following reasons:
At the same time as the research to the Local Plan Review and Urban Capacity Study was in progress, planning applications for Telephone House were brought forward. TW/99/02211 was received 2 Dec 1999 and refused under delegated powers in January 2000. The reasons for refusal are set out in Appendix 2. This was a poor scheme which was unsympathetic to the site and its context. The reasons for refusal on this application; and the constraints and opportunities emerging from detailed site feasibility work (undertaken for the Local Plan Review) formed the basis for negotiation on a subsequent application TW/00/01474. This was then worked up into a scheme by the developers. In the interim, between these two planning applications PPG3 (March 2000) was published in its final form and confirmed the sequential approach to housing site selection and the emphasis on making the best possible use of previously developed land in urban areas.
Members refused TW/00/01474 in October 2000. An Appeal was subsequently lodged which was the subject of a public inquiry in May 2001. In the interim work continued on Local Plan preparation and since no planning permission for the site had been granted, Telephone House was retained as an allocation in the draft Plan. Had Members granted planning permission for TW/00/01474 in October 2000, the site would not have appeared as an allocation, but the number of dwellings permitted would have been counted in Table 2 of the Plan from the outset.
The Appeal Inquiry closed on 4 May 2001, which was the same day the Local Plan Deposit Copy came into the public arena as Council agenda papers. (The Plan was subsequently approved by Full Council on 23 May 2001 for Deposit). The Appellants drew the Inspectorate's attention to the Local Plan Review in writing after the close of the Inquiry. The Borough Council were advised of this and responded by informing the Inspectorate of the stage reached by the Deposit Copy and stated that it would be for the Inspector to decide how much weight he would be able to afford it. The Appeal decision letter was issued on 3 July 2001 and is attached at Appendix 3. By this time the Local Plan Deposit Copy (inclusive of the Telephone House allocation) had to be printed in readiness for the public consultation and deposit exercises undertaken over summer 2001.
The Appeal was allowed and the resulting planning permission for 43 dwellings was a full permission, with conditions which requires submission of detailed matters such as landscaping, materials and schemes of working. These were all duly submitted and agreed during 2003 - 2003 and construction work is well advanced at January 2004.
PPG 12 Development Plans (1999) (Core Document No. 2.23) states that development plans should be as up to date as possible (paras 6.31 - 32). It clearly does not contribute anything to the clarity and informative value of the Plan to continue to allocate a site which has an extant permission for development of the type which an allocation would cover. This practice was also confirmed in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Local Plan Inspector's Report (Core Document 1.2), for example in his comment at para 13.6.3, and any allocations which had achieved permission during the Local Plan Inquiry process were deleted from the Adopted version, but counted in Table 2.
Consequently, when the Local Plan Review Second Deposit copy was published in October 2002, the Telephone House allocation was deleted and the dwellings permitted under TW/00/01474 were included in the outstanding consents section of Table 2 of the Plan. Before the Local Pan Review is adopted, any further housing land allocations which have achieved planning permission, will be similarly proposed for deletion and included under Table 2.
OTHER POINTS RAISED BY OBJECTOR
Most of the additional points raised by the objector at First and Second Deposit Copies (and their Appendix to First Deposit Representations dated 17 Sept 2001) were matters which were considered in detail by the Inspector in the Appeal decision letter to TW/00/01474 and the Borough Council is not in a position to contradict these findings.
The objector states that there was no endorsement of the scheme or Policy H6(a) by the utility companies. As stated in Topic Paper 2 (para 10.7), all of the potential Local Plan Review allocations were checked with all of the local public utility companies and no objections were raised and no additional works indicated in the case of the Telephone House site. A further opportunity exists for utility companies to comment when a site reaches planning application stage. The "no comment" by the Southern Water Authority in the committee item on TW/00/1474 referred to by the objector, means that the SWA had no objection to the scheme.
Form Layout and Landscaping
All of these matters were considered prior to the allocation of the site in the Deposit Copy and Policy H6(a) drafted such that development would not contradict any of the criteria of Policy EN1 or other environmental protection policies of the Plan. This was confirmed by the Inspector at Appeal, with reference to the Adopted Local Plan. However, these policies have not been changed in principle in the Local Plan Review.
8.4 The objector argues that due to the prime location of the site and its high financial value, a relaxation of the requirement for affordable housing would allow for better design and layout in the Conservation Area. The need for affordable housing in the Borough is well documented, through the Local Housing Needs Assessment (Core Document No. 1.34); Topic Paper 6: Affordable Housing (Core Document No. 1.62); and Policy H3 of the Local Plan Review itself. Para 6.38 of the Local Plan requires developers to demonstrate any "exceptional and unforeseen costs" in site preparation which would need to be taken in to account in negotiating the amount and type of affordable housing to be provided on the site at planning application stage. Developers are otherwise expected to be aware of the need for affordable housing and take this into account in their own negotiations for site purchase. No compromise on quality of design and layout due to inclusion of affordable housing in a development proposal would be acceptable to the Borough Council. There are many examples of developments in the Borough where affordable housing has been successfully integrated into a high quality scheme in sensitive locations.
8.5 In the event, the developers agreed to provide an element of affordable housing (8 units), to be the subject of a planning obligation at the Telephone House site. This was one of the agreed matters and therefore not discussed in detail at the Appeal Inquiry. The Inspector was satisfied with this arrangement (para 33 of the decision letter).
Recreation and Community Provision
The objector maintains that recreation open space should have been provided on site. It is recognised in Policy R2 of both the Adopted Local Plan and the Local Plan Review that it may not always be practicable to provide recreation open space on some residential sites such as this. The policy and supporting Supplementary Planning Guidance: Residential Development and Recreation Open Space (Core Document No. 1.13), set out the arrangements for commuted payments in these circumstances. Again, on the Telephone House site this matter was agreed with the developers prior to the Appeal hearing. The Inspector concluded at para 33 of his decision letter (Appendix 3 ) that this matter had been satisfactorily dealt with in the draft planning obligation.
These matters were considered prior to the allocation of the site in the Deposit Copy and found to be satisfactory. A condition was imposed as part of the Appeal decision requiring a scheme of working to be prepared to control construction traffic. An acceptable scheme has been submitted and approved to satisfy the latter (TW/02/02409).
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The planning permission in respect of the Telephone House granted on Appeal by the Secretary of State in July 2001 has been included within Table 2 of the second Deposit Copy because it is now a commitment forming part of the Borough Council's housing land supply over the Plan period. It is therefore entirely appropriate to include it in Table 2 as part of "net planning permissions at 2002" as referred to in para 6.57 of the Second Deposit Copy. The development is currently being built out. I understand that the Secretary of State's decision to grant planning permission cannot now be questioned or challenged in any legal proceedings whatsoever as the as the time period for doing so has expired.
Proposals for the redevelopment of the Telephone House site occurred over a period when national and local planning policy were undergoing review and greater emphasis was being placed on the need to identify and make best possible use of previously developed land in sustainable locations for housing.
Telephone House was a redundant building, occupying a prominent town centre site, in a sustainable location. It was justifiably identified as a housing allocation able to make a valuable contribution to the housing land supply in the Urban Capacity Study and allocated as such in the Local Plan Review Deposit Copy.
Prior to publication of the Local Plan Review Deposit Copy, a planning application for redevelopment of the site was submitted and granted permission on Appeal.
In accordance with good practice in Plan preparation, Telephone House was therefore deleted from the housing allocations in the Local Plan Review - Second Deposit Copy, and the permitted dwellings counted in Table 2. The Plan will need to be updated further in this way as other housing land allocations achieve planning permission.
The Inspector is therefore respectfully requested to recommend that the objection should not be upheld.
The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
Objections and Request to change Policy H6(a) - the Policy for Telephone House, Tunbridge Wells - in the Local Plan
Bizarrely, Policy H6(a) allocated for Telephone House was identical to the two refused planning applications for the Telephone House development.
[1st: refused at delegated officers' level - 2nd: refused by the Councillors of the Western Area Planning Committee].
Policy H6(a) is the most controversial document, produced by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, leading to the Telephone House Debacle.
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, Kent, TN1.