PREMIER INN faces a major setback in its plans to build a 110-bed hotel on London Road after opponents started legal action against the Borough Council.
Those against the £7million redevelopment of Merevale House, which served as a county court until last year, believe the council acted ‘unlawfully’ when it gave the hotel chain the go-ahead in April.
They also claim the council’s actions are creating a ‘perfect storm’ of discontent, as it already faces concerted opposition to its £72million Civic Complex plans.
Opponents want a judicial review, in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision. They started action against the council at the High Court of Justice on September 4 and the local authority was served papers relating to that action two days later.
Representing residents is Landmark Chambers, a law firm specialising in planning disputes, which is headquartered just yards from the High Court on Fleet Street.
The legal challenge focuses on the approach of the council to the impact of the hotel development on the Tunbridge Wells Conservation Area.
By statute, ‘considerable importance and weight’ must be attached to how developments may impact, both positively and negatively, upon conservation areas.
“The council are killing what made the town special; they are killing the golden goose”
Opponents of the hotel say planning officers failed to advise members of the planning committee properly on issues in their report, which ultimately recommended the scheme’s approval.
They point to contradictions within the report itself which stated, on the one hand, the development would ‘improve the character and appearance of the Conservation Area’, but on the other advised it would cause harm, albeit a modest degree, to the area’s character and appearance.
The project’s opponents cite the opinion of urban designer Edmund Booth, of bespoke architectural practice The Conservation Studio, who claims the development will cause ‘substantial harm’ to the area.
In addition, residents accuse officers of being misleading with how they represented the scale of the project at a planning committee meeting in March, when they made it sound much smaller than it really is.
Ultimately, they believe the councillors sitting on the committee made their decision on the basis of misleading information.
Approval was given on March 29 by nine votes in favour, four opposed and one abstention at a meeting chaired by Cllr Julia Soyke prior to her elevation to the Mayoralty.
Spearheading the legal challenge is resident Ellen Kent, who spoke out against the project when she was called to address the planning committee immediately prior to the vote.
Commenting on why she and others have resorted to the courts, which could be a year-long process, she said: “Approval of the Premier Inn proposal is just another example of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s disregard for process and it shows that the Conservation Areas mean very little to them now.
“Applications are being rubber stamped regardless of impact. Tunbridge Wells once had a reputation for a quality, natural environment. There was once an intangible value. Slowly but surely the council are killing what made the town special; they are killing the golden goose.”
Residents are now waking up to the reality of what is literally happening on their door-step, and are “not putting up with it. The council are creating the perfect storm.”
A spokesman for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council acknowledged the legal challenge has been made, but added: “This is now before the court and therefore we won’t say any more on the matter while legal proceedings are ongoing.”
Premier Inn said they have ‘nothing to add’ to the council’s comments.