09.07.02 - Letter to Len Horwood, the new Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (as of May 2002)
Surely, the time has come for you to initiate a Public Inquiry : Attitude and Conduct of certain officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
THE TELEPHONE HOUSE NEIGHBOURS ASSOCIATION
37 Church Road
Royal Tunbridge Wells
Cllr Len Horwood
Leader of the Council
Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells
8 July 2002
Dear Cllr Horwood
Telephone House - Request for Public Inquiry: Attitude and Conduct of certain officers
Thank you for your letter of 21st June. We are pleased to note that Mr Harris, the Borough Solicitor, is answerable for his conduct and you may perhaps consider referring his letters to his appropriate superior. It is surely extraordinary that when we asked for an explanation of the legal advice which he gave to a Council Committee he should refer us for the answer to the selfsame Committee, the recipient of his advice.
You have clearly been advised that the ombudsman is the right person to consider our concerns, concerns which are no doubt also held by you and your colleagues. With respect, we do not believe this is a matter for the ombudsman.
We are, here, not concerned with the decision of the Council or any amendments to its procedure which you may adopt. We are not concerned with the merits of the decision of the WAPC taken in October 2000. We endorse it fully.
We are, however, very worried by the attitude and conduct of certain officers before and after, both the October 2000 and the appeal hearing. What were the reasons for this conduct? Were they acting professionally, deliberately, negligently or incompetently?
One thing is certain: The WAPC turned down the second application which had been supported by officers. Subsequently, the Appeal Inspector allowed the appeal of the developers to the delight of some officers. The officers had had their way.
It seemed of no concern to the Chief Executive that the Inspector awarded costs against the Council for "unreasonable behaviour". Within a week of the decision having been issued, this officer wrote: "I do no take the view that a further dialogue on these now historic issues is in the Councilís interest". The Chief Executive was refusing to answer our pertinent questions. The Chief Executive was trying to sweep all under the carpet. It was more likely to remain there if the Council was persuaded not to seek a judicial review or indeed order an enquiry into the conduct of officers.
There are too many matters here that require the production of documentary evidence and public cross examination of witnesses. This cannot be achieved by the ombudsman, who is also restricted in the scope of his investigations.
We set out some of our concerns of the many questions which remain unanswered:
- Why in January 2000 did officers turn down the first planning application by Crest without reference to the chairman or Members of the WAPC?
- Why did officers dissuade the developers from communicating with local residents?
- Why did officers insist upon 43 units, including affordable housing, in the second application when the developers had proposed a lesser number?
- Why did officers recommend the second application
- when they knew, or should have known, it was contrary to the strong feeling of local residents,
- failed to insist upon the retention of the trees in York Road which had been one of the reasons given by officers for turning down the first application?
- Why and for what purpose did Mr Eveleigh mislead the WAPC in October 2000 as to the reasons which should and should not be given for refusing the second application?
- Why was a tree preservation order not put on the trees in York Road immediately after the WAPC meeting in October 2000 as was requested by local residents? (December 2000 meeting dealt with TPOs, but not for York Road.)
- After the appeal was commenced, why did officers agree a Statement of Common Ground with the appellants in which many of the reasons of the WAPC for refusing the application had been negotiated out?
- Why did officers not consult the chairman of the WAPC about the Common Ground Statement before agreeing it with the appellants?
- Why did officers not draw to the attention of the Appeal Inspector the inaccuracies in the shadow diagrams prepared for the developer by Schatunowski Brooks?
- Why did officers refuse to consult with the THNA and local residents, who had fully supported the decisions of the WAPC?
- Why did officers refuse to pass a copy of the THNA dossier to Junior Counsel, thus forcing the WAPC chairman to arrange it? Officers had received a copy of the 200 page detailed dossier which THNA had sent to the Inspector.
- Why did officers refuse to allow representatives of the THNA to meet with Junior Counsel before the appeal hearing as the THNA fully supported the Councilís decision?
- Who took the decision to make two comparatively inexperienced officers attend as sole witnesses for the Council at the Public Inquiry in May 2001?
- Why did one of the two, if not both, officers not bother to read the THNA dossier received by them back in January 2001 as admitted under cross examination at the Public Inquiry?
- Why did neither Mr Eveleigh (Head of Planning and Building Control Services) nor Mr Prentis (Development Control Manager) attend and lead at the appeal hearing of such an important development?
- Why was such an ineffective Junior Counsel instructed?
- What precise instructions were given to Junior Counsel to win the case?
- Why did the Borough Solicitor not attend the appeal hearing to observe the performance of Counsel, whom he had, as he said, judged best for the job?
- Was the same Junior Counsel instructed to advise about seeking a judicial review after the Inspectorís award was issued on 3 July 2001?
- What were the precise instructions to Counsel upon which he was asked to advise with regard to a possible judicial review?
- Why did the Chief Executive advise the OSB meeting on 26th July 2001 that a judicial review should not be sought?
- Why was the THNA not allowed by the Chief Executive to sight the opinion of Counsel?
- With regard to Policy H6(a) in the DLP
- Why did officers include Policy H6(a) in the DLP when it was clearly contrary to the decision of the WAPC when they turned down the application in October 2000?
- Why was a copy deliberately given to the Appeal Inspector via the appellants within a week of its issue while it was not yet in the public domain?
- Why did Mr Haynes, contrary to the request of THNA advise the Council meeting on 23 May 2001 not to remove Policy H6(a)?
- At the same meeting, why did Mr Stone state incorrectly on the advice of the Borough Solicitor that the Inspector would not take the DLP into account?
- If the Inspector was not going to take Policy H6(a) into account, why did Mr Prentis write to him on 15th May 2001?
- Having persuaded Councillors not to remove Policy H6(a) in May, why was Mr Stone asserting that Policy H6(a) would be "unambiguously a material consideration" if the appeal had to be reheard?
- Why did Mr Stone even in early July apparently not realise that if Policy H6(a) was removed from the DLP, it would ipso facto cease to be a material consideration?
- Why did Mr Stone not take immediate steps to get Policy H6(a) removed by calling an extraordinary meeting of the Council?
- Why have officers steadfastly refused to have the factual errors in Policy H6(a) rectified?
The above are examples of the many questions which need answers. There has clearly, been a deliberate policy by officers to conceal the facts.
Clearly this is not a matter for the ombudsman, whose task is to consider the way decisions are taken. We question the way in which officers dealt with the consequences.
Officers seem unconcerned that costs (as much as £200,000?) were awarded for unreasonable conduct. Many have called for a Public Inquiry, where documents have to be disclosed and witnesses are cross examined. Surely, the time has come for you to initiate a Public Inquiry.
We look forward to hearing from you.
February 2003 - COMMENT to Cllr Len Horwood's refusal to initiate a Public Inquiry
What went wrong with the Telephone House Planning Applications ?
The uneasy questions to the Chief Executive Rodney Stone and other senior officers of TWBC
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.