04.05.01 - The Public Inquiry - Speech of Member Sam McDowell

The relationship between the Conservation Area and The Telephone House Redevelopment, Tunbridge Wells

My name is Sam McDowell. I own and occupy an apartment at London Road, Tunbridge Wells. The house is situated on the corner of London Road with York Road, and the entrance to my apartment is from York Road. My wife and I have lived there for three years but we have been in Tunbridge Wells for more than 29 years.

The evidence of James R. G. Thomas contains an excerpt from the 1969 book on the Buildings of England by Pevsner and Newman part of which reads:

"The 1830s were the great period of residential expansion, with Decimus Burton’s Calverley scheme realised with remarkable completeness. The impetus given by Burton has never slackened since, but the architectural quality of the houses after 1840 is almost without exception low, as the Perambulation will suggest. Sadly, no better report can be given of the rebuilding that goes on at the moment in many places around the town."

It appears to us that Mr Thomas has searched hard to find evidence denigrating the area in which we live. We have a copy of the second edition of the same book, and the account of Tunbridge Wells has been slightly rearranged at the prompting of Dr Philip Whitbourn, president of the Civic Society, and the corresponding passage reads:

"The 1830s opened the great period of residential expansion, with Decimus Burton’s Calverley scheme realised with remarkable completeness. Further estates, terraces, and houses sprang up in many directions in the mid c19 and a good deal survives today unaffected by later insertions. What makes the town memorable however is almost never architectural quality, but the relation of buildings to the greenery of commons, parks and fields."

It seems to us that Mr Thomas attempts to portray the area more as a shantytown than a Conservation Area. In the Photographic Report he is keen to show that the buildings in the area surrounding the BT site are in poor condition. Even the camera angles and the shadowy areas seek to emphasise the point. He confirms this in his evidence at paragraph 4.4.5.

Proof of Evidence Thomas of Rothermel 4.5.3

I would like to mention that last year, I and my fellow residents at 74/75 London Road spent a considerable sum of money in replacing the roof and completely refurbishing and painting the exterior of the property, and I know that similarly extensive maintenance and improvements have taken place at 76 London Road, at 58 and 60 York Road, and at The Meeting Room at 41 York Road. There are other examples. It is understandable if a resident in the area is reluctant to embark on major expenditure in improving the façade of his or her property, in the absence of a clear indication that there will be an acceptable proposal for the development of the Telephone House site.

For their part, BT have made no effort, particularly during the past two years, to improve the appearance of Telephone House, and thereby the surroundings in general. A simple clean up would have gone a long way to achieving this.

The way in which the Photographic Report sets out to disparage the area leaves us wondering what attractions the developers will eventually be able to offer to proposed buyers of the properties. Looking at photograph no 34 which illustrates the height and bulk of the church and Europa House, Mr Thomas seems to forget that this will be the view that prospective clients will have.

We are not experts in matters such as Conservation Areas, but we do believe that we can demonstrate through a few pictures why, in York Road, the proposed changes are not appropriate.

  1. If the tree line were to be replaced by walls this would in our view create a "tunnel" effect. Situated at the point where the road bends, the walls of the properties would be head on as one approached.

    Photograph (1)

  2. This open space contributes to the visual amenity and is one of the first impressions of the town gained by tourists leaving their coaches in London Road and approaching the town centre on foot via York Road.

    Photograph (2)

  3. We produce a further photograph which, we believe, demonstrates just how much light falls through this 48m opening. The proposed blocks of flats would be set close to the street and houses opposite. They would not only steal the light of the houses opposite but would stand in their own deep shadow.

    According to Paul McCreery in his evidence, (page 34, 6.2.1. and 6.2.2), loss of privacy and overshadowing would affect only three houses in York Road, Nos. 34-38, but in fact, eight houses, Nos. 30-44 inclusive, would be affected.

    Photograph (3)

  4. We entirely agree with Mr Thomas that Telephone House should not be the landmark when viewed from The Common, but we believe that the proposed Block "A" should not be substituted in its place. Mr Thomas suggests that Block "A" is not unduly dominant in the context of neighbouring buildings, but then makes the comparison between it and Europa House, which earlier in his report he had described as a "harmful element," "grotesquely ugly," and "alarmingly insensitive to the listed terrace next to it." Compared with a building so horrendously described, maybe Block "A" would not be unduly dominant.


    We produce a copy of a postcard from around the late 19th century showing Holy Trinity church as a landmark, and would suggest that this view presents a more harmonious setting than the computer-aided drawing produced in the appendix to Architect Sutters’ report. As depicted by this original photograph, the Church Road "Dorset" residences and Devonshire Place to the west of Holy Trinity church still maintained their roof line in the late 19th century. Whilst the London Road residences seen in the foreground also maintain their skyline today, we are currently presented with the opportunity to restore that of Church Road in replacing the incongruous Telephone House slab block with a skyline congruous with an environment dating back to the 18th century.

I would refer finally to the feasibility study dated March 2000 prepared by Sutters (Planning Constraints to Development Design Analysis), and I quote:

The central site area provides potential for improving views across the site and distant sight lines into the town centre and to The Common (Ephraim Heights). At present these are obscured by the bulky inner wing of Telephone House. This therefore becomes the key element in the analysis.
- Has this been forgotten?

Mr Thomas thinks that residents ought to welcome the removal of the eyesore which is Telephone House, and we would, but his report seems only to have one message: "anything replacing this ugly Telephone House will be better," with the emphasis unfortunately on "anything."

February 2003 - Views from Mount Ephraim, Tunbridge Wells
The visual impact of the demoltion of Telephone House is gigantic.

The Telephone House Neighbours Association, Tunbridge Wells
The aims are to heighten peoples' awareness and concern for the development on Telephone House site, Church Road/York Road, Tunbridge Wells.