Judicial review of inspector’s Sevenoaks Local Plan verdict fails

Sevenoaks District Council has failed in its legal challenge against a planning inspector’s refusal to approve its Local Plan.
The local authority had brought a judicial review of inspector Karen Baker’s conclusion that it had failed to comply with the required duty to cooperate when preparing its Plan, as detailed in section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.
Sevenoaks challenged the finding on four grounds:

  • The inspector erred in law in failing to apply a margin of appreciation when considering the test under section 33A of the 2004 Act
  • The inspector failed to correctly interpret and apply the duty to cooperate, and in reality conflated that duty with the requirement that a Plan be sound
  • The inspector failed to have regard to material considerations and in particular to consider the material evidence that was placed before her
  • The inspector’s reasons were inadequate

However, in the Planning Court, Mr Justice Dove rejected the council’s challenge. The key point appears to be that the council engaged fully with neighbouring local authorities when it became clear at the Reg 18 stage that housing need could not be met, rather than as part of the whole process.
Nigel Britten, CPRE’s Sevenoaks chairman, expressed his disappointment with the outcome: “We are very concerned that the judgement will only achieve new threats to the countryside.
“It’s likely that the council will have to repeat a whole round of consultation – including the duty to cooperate – and finish up with much the same result as before.
“But in the meantime, developers will sense an opportunity and put in applications for sizeable developments in the Green Belt and AONB, claiming that the Local Plan is not up to date.
“The council says it is, but pressures from the so-called housing-need algorithm will test it to the limit.”
Peter Fleming, leader of Sevenoaks District  Council, said: “We are clearly disappointed and somewhat bemused by the ruling from the Honourable Mr Justice Dove, especially as the duty to cooperate, the reason given by the planning inspector to reject our plan, is set to be abolished in the government’s own proposed planning reforms.
“In our opinion, the removal of the duty to cooperate is an open admission that it is neither effective nor workable in the Local Plan-making process. “However, despite this, we believe we both met and exceeded the requirement. The government’s own Planning Advisory Service and a number of former senior planning inspectors also supported this position.
“Court action is never something we would enter into lightly. But our Plan reflects our communities’ priorities of protecting the rural nature of the district and the Green Belt whilst providing much-needed new homes and improved local infrastructure. We will always stand up for the communities we serve.
“We are reviewing the judgement in detail and considering our options.”
The council’s website statement added: “The existing Local Plan, with all its current protections, will continue to be used to help decide planning applications until a new Plan is agreed.”

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020