An independent planning inspector has backed the city council’s decision to refuse a planning application that would have resulted in the loss of important office accommodation in the city centre.

The council refused permission to turn the British Telecom (BT) building in New Dover Road, known as Becket House, into residential accommodation in April 2016. The applicant appealed, but following a public inquiry, inspector Nick Palmer has upheld the council’s decision.

Chairman of the council’s Planning Committee, Cllr Jenny Samper, said: “Naturally we are pleased the inspector has supported our decision. This is a building in a prime location that can still have a very important role to play in providing office accommodation in the city. If the appeal had been allowed, it would have been lost forever.

“Local residents living nearby were also concerned about the impact this development would have had on the area and we are sure that they too will welcome the outcome of this appeal.”

The planning application to convert the building into 118 homes was refused for a variety of reasons, including the loss of employment floor space in the city and subsequent impact on the local economy, and the effect of the proposal on two adjoining conservation areas.

The applicant, Telereal Trillium/British Telecommunications Plc, appealed against the refusal and a planning inquiry was held in July this year. Representatives from the applicant and the council, as well as local residents, took part in the inquiry and made their case.

In his ruling, Mr Palmer concludes he has “…identified harms to the character and appearance of the area and the local economy…there are no other matters that weigh in favour of the proposal that would alter the planning balance”.

BT is still based in parts of the building. The council will continue to work with the company to explore future options to help them remain within the district.