Sevenoaks Council District Council is on collision course with the Planning Inspectorate after refusing to withdraw its draft Local Plan from examination.
Planning inspector Karen Baker in October last year warned the local authority that she would issue a report concluding its Plan was unsound if it was not withdrawn.
Her letter, sent on Thursday, October 17, said: “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.”
Council leader Peter Fleming promptly gave a stinging response : “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…
“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.”
The council has stuck to guns and on Wednesday, January 8, put a forthright statement on its website:
“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,” it read.
“The council’s strategic planning manager, James Gleave, confirms 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 repeating her belief that the 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 per cent 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 council statement is concluded by leader Cllr Fleming, who says: “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.”
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Monday, January 20, 2020