Agenda item

Application for Consideration - 22/02304/FULL Former ABC Cinema Site Mount Pleasant Road Royal Tunbridge Wells Kent


Planning Report and Presentation – The Head of Planning Services submitted a report in respect of application PLA63/22 Former ABC Cinema Site Mount Pleasant Road Royal Tunbridge Wells Kent and this was summarised at the meeting by Ms Antonia James Principal Planning Officer and illustrated by means of a visual presentation.


Updates and additional representation – Since publication of the report the Officer updated:


·        Additional representation from Chairman of Water in the Wells.

·        Pleased that the scheme includes a water feature that is visible from Mount Pleasant. It will provide an invitation for people to come in and take a rest in the courtyard. The water feature is well-sited but previous concerns remain and feel the scheme is unsightly and an inappropriately sited development.


·        Private representation.

·        Raises issue of rumble of trains from tunnel below. Recommend that shops removed from scheme as so many empty premises in RTW, could reduce height of building. Recommend balconies removed facing main road – noise and fumes for future occupants.


·        Trinity

·        Encouraged that the likely occupants would be active residents and will make the most of all the services and leisure activities the town offers. Interested in the mixed use space and Trinity may be able to work with applicant in utilising this area.


·        Local Plan Inspector

·        Para 55 of the Inspector’s letter from November 2022 states that ‘the latest proposals for the site include extra care and/or retirement housing which have materialised after the Plan was submitted. Although some representors have questioned the contribution that such uses would make to the vibrancy of the town centre, I see no reason why extra care and/or retirement housing would be inappropriate as part of a mixed-use scheme which included some active ground floor uses. Para 86(f) of the Framework specifically requires planning policies to recognise that residential development often plays an important role in ensuring the vitality of centres and encourage residential development on appropriate sites. The site has been vacant for a long time and its redevelopment should be supported and encouraged by the Plan.’


·        Para 56 ‘in order to make the Plan sound, greater flexibility should therefore be provided by a re-drafted policy which supports the principle of a broader range of town centre uses. A re-drafted policy could also emphasise the importance of regeneration of the site to the town and the requirements for a sensitive, high-quality design.’


·        Para 92 refers to needs of older people. Quotes a gross need for the borough of between 342 & 431 units.  This figure is superseded by expert evidence carried by the Council for the Sandown Park Inquiry (held summer ’22) which found gross need of 593. Also queries by the Inspector regarding Tudeley and Paddock Wood allocations which may impact on how the needs for older people will be met as both of these allocations required the provision of an ECH scheme.


·        Officer queried calculation for C2 discount for five year housing land supply with Policy team. Policy response:

·        It is generally accepted that C2 units are calculated in terms of bedspaces. Proposal seeks to Provide 29 2 bed units and 137 2 bed units. It would be prudent to calculate the C2 discount from the total number of bedspaces (303). Discounted, this would result in 156 C3 equivalent units, rather than 86.


·        The committee report gives significant weight to contribution the development would make to the Council’s five year housing land supply based on the figure of 86. It is likely that this figure would be higher, which is also afforded significant weight.


Registered Speakers – There were 8 speakers that registered in accordance with the Council’s Constitution (Planning Committee Procedure Rules)



·        Mr David Osborne, a local resident.

·        Mr Michael Lees, on behalf of the Town Forum.

·        Mr Paul Avis, on behalf of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society.



·        Mr Will Bax, Chief Executive of Retirement Villages Group(RVG).

·        Ms Shirley Hall, Head of Care and Wellbeing, RVG.

·        Mr Ravindranath Ramphul, whose statement was read by Mr Gabriel Abulafia.

·        Mr Corin Thoday, Chief Executive of Targetfellow Estates.


Matters of clarification by Officers and Committee Members’ questions to Officers included:

                 i.          Officers confirmed that as this development was a C2 scheme with care provision there was no policy requirement for the developer to provide affordable housing.

                ii.          The applicant had agreed to pay all the financial contributions that had been requested upon them.

               iii.          Kent County Council’s (KCC) financial requests had been accepted by the applicant and there were no concerns that they were not going to be brought forward.

              iv.          The Local Plan Inspector’s comments were quoted with regard to the contribution the prospective residents would make to the vibrancy of the town centre and Officers considered that the development complied with the expectations of the Inspector who referenced paragraph 86F NPPF.

                v.          Town Centre plan had started its production and the local development scheme set out the program of planning and was due to be adopted in November 2025.

              vi.          The issue of fire safety was covered in the report and officers had investigated this in a lot of detail. The applicant had during the design of the building consulted with fire safety advisors as part of their design team and a fire safety statement was submitted Gateway One team had not objected to the development and issued raised could be dealt with at building regulation stage.

             vii.          The council considered that it was a mixed use development and efforts were made to ensure the ground floor level was as active as possible with use of the lobby and gym as well as retail/commercial units.

            viii.          There was a need for the provision of older person housing.

              ix.          The height of the development comparable to other properties in the borough was discussed.

                x.          The plant had been positioned in the least prominent locations and generally set back in order to minimise its visibility.

              xi.          It was advised that a condition in the report outlined that the primary occupier had to be a minimum age of 65, with their spouse allowed to be younger. The primary occupant must be in need of a minimum of 2 hours of personal care a week, secured as part of the S106 agreement. Further details of the legal agreement was outlined.

             xii.          It was expected that the residents of the extra care scheme would be active elderly.

            xiii.          Highways and Parking were addressed from page 103 of the report and the main points of this were highlighted.

           xiv.          As part of the legal agreement the restaurant was secure to be open to the public and RVG would ensure that it was managed appropriately.

             xv.          The average age of residents in such a scheme was approximately 80 years old.

           xvi.          The building was not stepped down the hill in order to make sure that flexible floor space can be provided. Smaller units can be amalgamated into larger spaces if the market required. The Council’s Conservation Officer also stated that there were constraints in the change in level in terms of  accessing the shop fronts and not wanting to have separate walls or divide the footpath.

          xvii.          Details of external materials can be required by condition, including sample panels of bricks and mortar to ensure high quality.

        xviii.          It was important to note that the overall height of the development was lower than what had previously been approved.

           xix.          It was noted that of the key aspects was the view of the Council’s Economic Development Manager who supported the application and considered the economic benefits of the scheme to be at a level that would enhance the vitality and viability of the town centre.

             xx.          An informative was suggested to have a hearing loop installed in the meeting rooms.

           xxi.          An informative was suggested to have an advertising space for all the town centre’s activities.


Committee Member Debate and Officer clarification included:

                 i.          It was felt that this applicant was invested in the town.

                ii.          The Local Plan Inspector’s comments were acknowledged.

               iii.          It was felt that the design was large and overbearing and there was a question whether it was being accepted to avoid an empty site.

              iv.          Questions were raised whether the development was the right scheme for the town centre.

                v.          The age of residents was a concern and whether they would be active enough to contribute to the town.

              vi.          It was felt that Trinity Theatre and the Assembly Hall would benefit greatly from a new nearby audience.

             vii.          It was felt that residents in the middle of the town brought life to the centre.

            viii.          It was questioned whether the scheme delivered mixed use.


Decision/voting – On the basis that members were satisfied that all relevant planning considerations had been covered within the report, a motion was proposed by Councillor Patterson seconded by Councillor Fitzsimmons and a vote was taken to approve the application in line with the officer recommendation.


RESOLVED – That application PLA63/22 be granted subject to the completion of a Section 106 agreement and the plans, conditions and informatives as set out in the agenda report and the additional informative below:


The applicant should consider installing a hearing loop within the multi-use area and consider measures to promote town centre events and businesses within the scheme.

Supporting documents: