THE redevelopment of Union House looks set to go ahead after planning permission was granted last week, a move one council officer said would ‘remedy the damage’ inflicted on The Pantiles by the current building.
The decision came in the face of opposition from the Civic Society that claims the development is ‘oppressive’ with ‘no justification for doubling the bulk of building on the same footprint’.
An additional 127 apartments, with accompanying retail units and ‘community spaces’, will replace the 1960’s office block that has long been seen a blight on the image of the historic promenade that it overlooks.
Councillors voted at a meeting of the planning committee on Thursday (January 26) to let the project’s developer Dandara press ahead with the scheme. A council spokesman confirmed the vote was not unanimous, however, no breakdown of the split is available due to the unrecorded nature of the meeting.
The proposed development has proven divisive since it was first mooted in 2015, a year after Dandara purchased the existing structure from British Steel Pension Fund.
Initial designs were criticised by members of the public who described them as a ‘gulag’ and a ‘cross between a prison and a hospital’, leading the developer and architectural firm Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to return to the drawing board.
But in a report to the planning committee Alan Legg, the council’s urban design officer, said he ‘fully supports’ the proposed development.
Mr Legg said: “The proposed redevelopment of Union House presents a real opportunity to remedy past damage to the townscape through the appropriate replacement of the buildings and public realm.
“This proposal has grasped that opportunity to deliver new land uses and redevelopment in a sensitive way. It is an accomplished and considered piece of design, achieving a balance between not being a design to parody The Pantiles but something that is of early 21st century.”
His opinion was in contrast to that put forward by the Civic Society who urged the planning committee to reject the proposals due to the size of development.
“There is no justification for doubling the bulk of building on the same footprint; the result is oppressive even with improved architectural treatment and results in the arbitrary creation of an eight-storey ‘gateway’ feature on Eridge Road.”
However, the council looks to benefit from an £850,000 windfall in developer contribution, of which £340,000 is to be to used for off-site affordable housing within Tunbridge Wells Borough.
A spokesman for Dandara said the developer was ‘delighted’ by the decision, adding: “The redevelopment is of the highest architectural quality, endorsed by Historic England, and will replace a building that is overbearing and unwelcoming with a scheme that integrates seamlessly with The Pantiles.
“We are confident that our redevelopment of Union House will also act as a catalyst for further regeneration around The Pantiles area as well as bringing forward much needed housing. We hope to start the redevelopment of Union House as soon as possible and bring forward a building that is unmistakably ‘of Tunbridge Wells’ and one that we can all be proud of.”