The hearing, to be conducted by the Planning Inspectorate’s Graham Dudley, will be open to all members of the public, although only those with an official objection will be allowed to speak.
Taking place [Tuesday February 12] at the Mercure Hotel in Pembury, the inquiry starts at 10am and could last approximately two weeks.
A spokesperson for Persona Associates, who are organising the inquiry, explained the process: “On day one, Mr Dudley will open the proceedings and go through the general procedures.
“We will then hear the opening statements from the local authority and hear from witnesses for the council – these will then be cross-examined. I think we are looking at about a week to hear the council’s side,” she said.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has 12 witnesses listed to be heard. Following this, the inquiry team will hear from objectors to the CPOs.
“This will follow a similar procedure with proof of evidence heard from the objectors, and then these will be cross-examined. There are about ten objectors listed, so again, this should take about another week,” added the spokesperson.
While the council’s £90million Calverley Square development, which includes new civic offices and a theatre complex, remains divisive in the town, the inquiry has not been set up to hear objections to the project itself.
Instead, only objections to the council’s use of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) are being heard. These include Mount Pleasant and Great Hall car parks, and part of Calverley Grounds including the dental surgery known as The Lodge.
“Once all the evidence has been heard, Mr Dudley will write a report that he will submit to the Planning Inspectorate,” the spokesperson for Persona Associates said.
Ultimately the report is sent to James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who will decide, based on the recommendations of Mr Dudley, to either confirm the CPOs, modify them, or throw them out.
It could be about two months before any decision is made, which could mean the results of the inquiry might be released just before the local elections in May, when a third of councillors from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council are up for re-election.
Dentist fighting plan to demolish his surgery
Simon Bell of Knights Solicitors based on the High Street, Tunbridge Wells, is representing Dr Simon Azimi, the dentist at The Lodge at Calverley Grounds who is opposing one of the Compulsory Purchase Orders that could see his surgery demolished.
“CPOs are quite a draconian measure, so the authority has to demonstrate there is a compelling case in the public interest for the development,” explained Simon Bell.
“The grounds for making the CPO has to be justified, in other words, there is no viable alternative to the use of a CPO to achieve the acquisition of the land required.
“And the council also has to explain why the land is needed, how the land will be used, there is a good reason for interfering with the human rights of those with interest in the land, and the development will proceed once the CPO is confirmed.”
He added that in the case of a CPO affecting somebody’s livelihood, as in Dr Azimi’s case, the council has to prove the development really is in the public’s interest.
Another of the key objections is expected to come from Hoopers Department Store, which is protesting about the proposed sharing of its car park and service road – they claim it could have a ‘catastrophic effect on the viability of continuing to trade in this location’.
The Council admit they have no contingency plan for Calverley Square if Hoopers’ objection is upheld and the CPO is thrown out.