The uneasy questions to Chief Executive Rodney Stone, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council
which he and senior officers refuse to answer.
October 2003 - more than 2 years later - Residents are still without explanations why the Planning Inspector's controversial appeal decision for Telephone House Development was left unchallenged.
The Council did nothing to re-open the case despite obvious misdirections of Inspector Malcolm Lewis, who is no longer in the employment with the Planning Inspectorate.
Why? - What went wrong in the early planning stages? - Why did officers recommend a planning application, which was similar to the one they had first refused?
Richard Phillips, QC for Southgate Developments and Crest Nicholson Residential, found it "bizarre" that the two officers supporting (!) the planning application were Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's only witnesses defending (!) Councillors' refusal at the Public Inquiry.
6 June 2001
Why was the first application by Crest Nicholson (Crest Homes South East Ltd.) turned down by Council Officers in January 2000 without prior consultation with the Western Area Planning Committee (WAPC).
When did officers start preparing a design incorporating 40+ units?
Who decided on the figure of 43 units and why?
- the Western Area Planning Committee,
- the Local Residents prior to its completion by the end of February 2000 never
shown or consulted about this design?
Why was the WAPC not consulted by officers as to whether they might relax the affordable housing guidelines in view of the site being one of the most expensive in town?
Officers seem to have had numerous discussions with the developers between February and September 2000, following which their report for the WAPC meeting on 18th October recommended approval of the second application.
- Which officers considered and agreed to the wording of the report?
- Why were so many of the reasons for refusing the first planning application (in January 2000) ignored when officers recommended the acceptance of the second planning application?
- Item 4 of the notification of refusal of the first application specifically did not agree that significant trees (in York Road) should be removed.
Why nine months later did officers recommend an application which involved the removal of those very trees?
If Councillors do not accept officers’ recommendations who is responsible for formulating the reasons for that approval/refusal?
The Western Area Planning Committee, unanimously, and for numerous good reasons, turned down the application:
- Why did Mr N Eveleigh, the Manager of the Planning and Building Control
Department, advise Councillors not to include all their reasons for refusal in the formal notification of refusal as given in the first refusal?
- Cllr Mills suggested that the same reasons as had been given by officers for the refusal of the first application could be used again.
Why did Mr Eveleigh not accept this?
- Does an officer have the authority to do so?
- Did the officer have the authority to alter/weaken the formulation of the grounds for refusal, thus not representing the Members’ strength of opinion?
With regard to the Public Inquiry Mrs Chambers stated in her introduction to her proof of evidence that "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."
Members of the WAPC confirm not to have been shown her proof of evidence before submission to the Inspectorate.
- On whose authority was this proof of evidence submitted?
With regard to Junior Counsel:
- Why was it decided to instruct Junior Counsel as opposed to Queen’s Counsel, to act for TWBC at the appeal hearing?
- Who took this decision?
- Who selected this Junior Counsel?
- And why?
- On what date was Counsel instructed?
- Why did Council officers not pass a copy of the THNA’s submission to Counsel?
- Was Counsel given sight of the third party’s letters of objection and documents submitted to the TWBC in connection with the second application?
- How often did Mrs Chambers and/or Mr Ashby meet with Counsel prior to the Public Inquiry?
- Which other officers had meetings with him?
- Are the minutes or notes of these meetings available?
- What were the views of the officers about the ability of Counsel prior to the Public Inquiry?
- Why did Council officers not invite the THNA to meet Counsel in conference prior to the Public Inquiry?
- What was the officers’ judgement of Counsel’s performance?
Council’s witnesses at the Public Inquiry:
- Who chose the Council’s witnesses?
- and for what reasons?
- Why were only two witnesses chosen and not more to defend the Council’s decision?
- Why was Mrs Chambers, who only became case officer in mid 2000, chief witness for the Council at the Public Inquiry?
- Why, in a matter of such complexity and importance to Councillors and residents was Mr Prentis, as Development Control Manager and having chaired many of the discussions with the developers in 2000, not a witness at the Public Inquiry?
- Why was Mr Eveleigh, as Manager of Planning and Building Control, who has been involved in the application, not a witness at the Public Inquiry?
- Why was Mr Legg, as Conservation Strategy Officer and "designer" of the project, not a witness at the Public Inquiry?
THNA’s documentation submitted to the Inspectorate:
- Which officers did read the THNA’s documentation?
- Why did Mr Ashby, as Conservation Architect, not bother to read the THNA
documentation as he admitted under cross examination during the Public Inquiry?
Why did officers in several meetings with members of the THNA prior to the Public Inquiry not reveal that Mr Alan Legg and other officers had dictated to the Applicant the entire scheme, even increasing the number of units?
"The view in Tunbridge Wells is that any change is bad, even if it is for the better."
- Is this disparaging view about residents, held by Mr Legg, consistent with his position as Conservation Strategy Officer?
- Are the views of Mr Legg endemic amongst the officers of the Borough’s Planning, Building Control, Strategy, Development and Conservation Departments?
The Local Plan Review - Deposit Copy, dated May 2001, on pages 122 amp&; 123 deals with the Telephone House site.
- Since this part of the plan (Policy H6 (a)) is known to be contrary to the unanimous views of the WAPC, expressed at its meeting in October 2000, and of the residents, why were their views ignored?
- Which officer(s) were responsible for the inclusion of this Policy?
- Since it was known, even to Council officers, by May 2001 that the area of the site is 0.307 ha (not 0.32 ha) and the density 140 (not 130), why were the incorrect figures put into the draft plan?
- and for what purpose?
- As stated in the Local Plan Review 6.57 (p 113), "the LPA sought to identify only sites of 0.4 hectares or greater as housing allocation".
Why was Policy H6(a) / Telephone House included as a policy?
- As all officers were fully aware and conversant with our concerns why did none of them have the courtesy to advise us of Policy H6(a) being included in the Local Plan Review, up for approval or rejection by the Council in an extra-ordinary Council meeting?
additional questions of 29 August 2001:
[ " Of course, our letter of 6th June with the annexed questions was written before the appeal findings were published (3 July 2001). Our then fears about the conduct of certain officers were borne out by the Inspector’s conclusion.
We must ask you therefore to let us have replies to our questions when according to your letter of 9th July a considerable amount of preparatory work had already been done. In addition, as a result of events about which we have learnt only subsequently we have the following additional queries " ]
- Who leaked the content of the Draft Local Plan to Barton Willmore prior to 9th May?
- What was the purpose of leaking this document?
Although Mr Prentis only bothered to put in a momentary presence at the Public Inquiry, he must surely have learnt that the THNA had an important part in the proceedings.
- Why did Mr Prentis not send a copy of the Barton Willlmore letter of 9th May and his own letter of 15th May to the THNA?
- Why did Mr Prentis not remind the Inspector of the many factual errors in the appeal statement by Barton Willmore?
- Why did Mr Prentis not remind the Inspector that the Draft Local Plan was not yet an Adopted Local Plan, and therefore section H6(a) was irrelevant?
- Had you been made aware of the two above-mentioned letters before the Council Meeting on 23rd May?
- Why did you advise Cllr Wakefield at this meeting that the Inspector could not and would not take H6(a) into consideration when coming to his decision about the appeal?
- Do you agree that the Inspector misdirected himself when he did in fact take it into account?
Could you advise us the reasons why the Operational Services Board on 26th July decided not to appeal
- against the Inspector’s Appeal decision?
- against the Costs decision?
- What is the monetary loss to the ratepayers resulting from the Costs award to the appellant?
- If this is not known yet what is your estimate?
2 years after the appeal, April 2003 - What is the nature of the negotiations between TWBC and Crest Nicholson?
What can possibly be demanded and what is offered?
- How did the Policy H6(a) emerge
- when was it integrated in the Draft Local Plan?
The accumulation of further unanswered questions from other correspondence by THNA:
- At the extra-ordinary Council Meeting on 23rd May, you advised Councillors that Policy H6(a) could not be used by the Inspector. It seems you were not correct. What will you do to correct this?
- In your letter of 9th July you end by saying that "I do not take the view that a further dialogue on these now historic issues is in the Council’s interest or indeed that of the residents". Is this solely your view or do you have support?
- If you are implying in your letter that because council officers were not specifically mentioned by the Inspector, they were not wholly or largely the subject of his comments of "unreasonable behaviour", who do you suggest was meant?
- What are the steps you have taken to see what lessons can be learnt from this episode?
- Do you consider that an independent enquiry would be of help?
- To whom do you think the Appeal Inspector was referring when he used the expression "unreasonable behaviour"?
- To whom, if anyone, are you answerable for your actions and conduct?
The accumulation of unanswered questions from correspondence by THNA to other officers of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council:
14.02.2002 - to Borough Secretary and Solicitor Martin Harris
- Members of the WAPC thought that by reference having been made to WK2, ENV15, ENV17, EN1, EN5, EN6, these formed part of the reasons for refusal in their entirety.
Why were they either misled or wrongly advised by officers about the reasons which should have been shown for refusal?
- Why was the Statement of Common Ground prepared in such a way as to negate some of those reasons?
- Why was such a weak Junior Counsel instructed for the appeal hearing?
- Why was Draft Policy H6(a) leaked to the Inspector?
- Why did officers recommend to Members at the OSB meeting in July 2001 not to seek a judicial review after the Inspector clearly misdirected himself in his reasons for allowing the appeal?
Answers to these questions and many others are required in order to establish the true facts about this sorry saga.
- It seems to us that this can only be done by an independent public enquiry and that it is not in the remit of the Ombudsman.
We shall however be grateful if you will kindly explain why you advised Members of the OSB on 7 February 2002 to the contrary.
06.03.2002 - to Borough Secretary and Solicitor Martin Harris
- You assert that the Working Party looked into " all the matters complained of ". We can nowhere see that our many questions to the Chief Executive have been addressed.
If we are wrong would you please advise the answers to our questions (filed with the Working Party on 7.1.2002) which must presumably have been given to the Working Party so that they could look into all the matters complained of?
- Are you suggesting that the Ombudsman would deal with all our questions?
- Would you please answer the question in our letter of 14th February, namely: Why did you advise the OSB meeting that an independent Public Inquiry should not be held?
Guide through the Local Press since August 2000 - "The Telephone House Debacle"
2003 - Failing Tunbridge Wells Council under Scrutiny
Summer 2001 - after the Telephone House Public Inquiry - Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's
Chief Executive Rodney Stone and the Director of Operational Services John Haynes, attitude towards residents and rate payers
Summer 2002 - Request for Public Inquiry -
Attitude and Conduct of certain Council officers
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.