‘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 leader savages ‘huge abuse of the process’ after council advised to withdraw Local Plan from examination

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