Sevenoaks District Council vows not to withdraw Local Plan despite being accused of ‘perceived failings’ by Government Planning Inspector
In the latest response to the Planning Inspector, Sevenoaks District Council has vowed not to withdraw its draft Local Plan, despite continued pressure to do so.
The Council’s Strategic Planning Manager, James Gleave, confirmed in the response dated 3 January that the Council will not voluntarily withdraw its Local Plan from examination and continues to disagree with the conclusions made by the Planning Inspector.
The Government appointed Planning Inspector, Karen Baker, wrote again to the Council on 13 December 2019 urging it to withdraw the Local Plan from examination. She repeated her belief that the Sevenoaks District Council has not carried out its duty to co-operate with neighbouring councils to find sites for new homes that cannot be delivered due to constraints such as the Green Belt. The Inspector believes the Council had not done enough to address the ‘unmet housing need’ despite the proposals achieving almost 90% of the Government’s housing target.
Mr Gleave goes on to say while the Planning Inspector highlights the Council’s perceived failings, she does not provide a clear understanding of what constructive engagement with neighbours should be. She fails to take the pragmatic approach expected in the legislation and ignores significant evidence, much of it from the Council’s neighbours and independent experts.
The Inspector had all the evidence and documentation for almost six months before the examination and asked 523 questions. Of these, just of six covered the duty to co-operate. The very first day of the examination covered the duty to co-operate and this included neighbouring councils giving evidence on Sevenoaks’ behalf. This demonstrated engagement had taken place throughout the process, including a meeting hosted by the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service.
Cllr Julia Thornton, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Development and Conservation, said: “In an area that is 93% Green Belt, much of it within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we have worked with residents, communities, developers and other groups to put forward a plan that delivers much needed housing and infrastructure, such as medical centres, transport and schools. It continues to protect our very special environment and the rural nature of the District. The plan would meet almost 90% of the Government’s housing need figure for the District. This is a significant achievement considering the constraints.
“Despite our neighbouring councils confirming we had done all we could to meet the duty to co-operate, we are disappointed the Planning Inspector’s conclusions fail to take into account the clear evidence we and our neighbours have provided. Clearly, every council is at different stages of their own Local Plan and despite keeping our neighbours informed at every turn, we could not expect them to delay their own plans based on what may be possible rather than was likely according to the evidence.
“We are obviously very disappointed the Planning Inspector has refused to meet with us and will not to accept any further correspondence about the matter.”
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, added: “I will be writing to the Secretary of State on this matter and urgently asking him to intervene. It appears something is very wrong with the system if a council with its communities works hard for four years to produce an evidence-based plan that delivers housing, jobs and infrastructure investment, whilst protecting the environment, only to be halted by a single individual. We will not be withdrawing our Local Plan and the Inspector will produce her report in due course. We will then take the strongest action open to us.”