Sevenoaks District Council has responded fiercely to the recommendation from a government inspector that it should withdraw its Local Plan from examination.
Inspector Karen Baker wrote to the local authority on Thursday, October 17, saying: “I have significant concerns about a number of aspects of the Plan, both in terms of legal compliance and soundness.
“My main concern relates to the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the absence of strategic cross-boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated…
“Furthermore, I have significant concerns about the soundness of the Plan in respect of a number of areas including the approach to sustainability appraisal, the chosen strategy for growth, the assessment of the Green Belt and housing supply and distribution…
“I am currently preparing a short letter setting out my concerns which will be with you shortly. I will not reach any final conclusions on the way forward for the examination until I have had the opportunity to consider your response to that letter…
“… I consider it is necessary for me to advise you that, at this point, I consider the most appropriate way forward for the Sevenoaks District Local Plan would be for the council to withdraw it from examination.”
Unsurprisingly, the missive has not been met with unbridled joy by the local authority.
A stinging statement on its website from council leader Peter Fleming says: “It is clear to me the way this has been handled calls into question the integrity of the whole plan-making system in this country.
“The inspector had our submission for six months and asked over 500 questions. What’s more, the draft Plan was independently verified and found sound by three external parties including the government’s own Planning Advisory Service.
“Had there been a fundamental problem, I would have expected the examination not to have gone ahead from the start.
“As a council we decided early on that we would follow an evidence-led approach, not prejudging any site and going where our Plan-making policy and the evidence took us.
“To call into question an evidence-led approach comes to the root of our concerns with the actions of the inspector. If we are not to follow the evidence to make our Plan then the government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites, we need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that Local Plans are in any way locally led.
“But the most damning comment has to be left for the inspector’s approach to publish her brief note before allowing the council to either see her full reasoning or have a chance to respond. This suggests her mind is far from open and she and her masters have made their minds up.
“Sevenoaks District Council will stand up for its residents and the district’s environment against what we believe is a huge abuse of the process by the Planning Inspectorate and the government department responsible.
“We will not allow them to run roughshod over the huge weight of evidence we have amassed, community views we have collated and the few powers we have left as a planning authority.”
Monday, October 21, 2019