‘We fundamentally disagree with the inspector’s conclusions and believe key parts of the Local Plan requirements have been incorrectly interpreted’: Sevenoaks begins judicial review proceedings in planning battle

The authority is making good on its warning that it would not back down

Sevenoaks District Council has taken its challenge of the Planning Inspectorate to the next level by beginning judicial review proceedings.
The move comes in response to a government-appointed inspector’s refusal to endorse the council’s new Local Plan.
The inspector, Karen Baker, wrote her final report on the examination of the Plan on March 2, concluding it was not legally compliant in respect of the council’s duty to cooperate.
She had advised the council of her view in a letter to the local authority in October in which she wrote: “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.”
However, not only did the council, which is being told its Plan should include the building of 11,312 homes, refuse to withdraw it but its leader, Peter Fleming, gave a fierce response to the inspector’s letter:
“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.”
Cllr Fleming is now making good on his warning that the council would not back down: “I will be writing to the Secretary of State on this matter and urgently asking him to intervene,” he said in October.
“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.”
The council says its Plan submission included more than 800 pages of evidence detailing how it had worked with neighbouring authorities during its production of the Plan. It adds that those councils and other organisations involved in its development supported the council’s evidence and approach.
And on Friday last week (April 17) Cllr Fleming said: “Taking legal action is not something we would undertake lightly and demonstrates we are serious about standing up for our residents and our cherished environment, against what we believe is a fundamental failure by the Planning Inspectorate to take account of the weight of evidence in front of them.
“Working with landowners, communities and developers, our new Local Plan put forward innovative solutions to deliver almost 10,000 homes and improved infrastructure while protecting nearly all of our Green Belt. It’s a huge frustration that, after so much work, we cannot take our Plan forward at this time.
“In our view, concluding we failed to cooperate with neighbouring councils was the only way to halt the examination. We reject this. We gave the planning inspector detailed evidence of our work with our neighbours and, from the start, they said they couldn’t accommodate the homes we could not deliver.”
Julia Thornton, cabinet member for development & conservation, added: “Our Local Plan is the first in the country to be assessed under a new planning framework. We believe, whilst this is not the reason the inspector has given, failing to meet the government’s housing figure would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.
“If the inspector did have significant concerns over our duty to cooperate, these should have been raised soon after we had submitted our Plan, not months later. We fundamentally disagree with the inspector’s conclusions and firmly believe key parts of the Local Plan requirements have been incorrectly interpreted.
“We feel have no choice but to take this course of action.”
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the Planning Inspectorate, will have the chance to respond before a judge decides if the case should proceed.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sevenoaks sticks to its guns and refuses to withdraw draft Local Plan from examination

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

Goodbye and thank you from Brian Lloyd

We said goodbye to Senior Planner Brian Lloyd on Friday. He had worked for CPRE Kent for eight years and transformed the way we dealt with local plans and planning applications and issues. As well as making a major contribution to the plan making process across the county he was involved with neighbourhood planning and advised, trained and helped parish councils.

Brian and his partner Jean, photo by Paul Buckley

Brian and his partner Jean, photo by Paul Buckley

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Brian said: “A big thank you to everyone that came along to my leaving party on Friday and to those that contributed towards my leaving gifts – a camera and membership of Kent County Cricket Club for 2016. This was extremely generous, and most unexpected, as were the lovely flowers presented to Jean. It was wonderful to see so many people who had travelled from all corners of the County to send me off.  I am really looking forward to having time to do the things I have not been able to, especially when the better weather comes, and spending more time at cricket will most definitely hit the spot. It has been a privilege to meet and work with so many people who feel so passionately about Kent’s countryside, and it’s has been inspiring that so many people give so much time to CPRE and their communities to try and ensure that future generations can enjoy it as we have been able to. I wish you all well and I am sure that I will see many of you again in the future.”

Hilary Newport presents Brian with his gifts, photo Paul Buckley

Hilary Newport presents Brian with his gifts, photo Paul Buckley