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

Sevenoaks: the sites that could be taking a housing hit

Are the diggers heading your way?

Planners at Sevenoaks District Council have revealed the Green Belt sites they have identified for major housing development – greenfield sites with no development at present.
They are satisfied there are “exceptional circumstances” to justify changing the Green Belt boundary for these cases, their verdict coming after this summer’s consultation on the district’s draft Local Plan.
If the proposals are approved by cabinet on Thursday (December 6) they will be included in the final consultation on the Plan (the Regulation 19 stage) before it goes to public inquiry in the spring.
The government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula has arrived at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built in Sevenoaks district from 2015-2035. Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties.
At the Draft Plan consultation stage (Regulation 18), 12 ‘exceptional circumstances’ Green Belt sites were proposed for potential development. Of those, the following are being taken forward to consultation:

  • Four Elms Road, Edenbridge (350 units)
  • Sevenoaks Quarry (600 units)
  • East of London Road, Dunton Green (240 units)

In addition, Pedham Place, land in the AONB near Swanley, is identified as a “broad location for development” for 2,500 houses.
At the Planning Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, November 22, councillors voiced strong objection to the site, but a motion to exclude it was lost by a 5-6 margin.
Further consideration will be given to the release of this site from the Green Belt when the Plan is reviewed in the mid-2020s.
The local authority received 8,500 comments on the draft Plan from some 6,000 representors, including CPRE’s Sevenoaks committee, the majority objecting to the allocation of these ‘exceptional circumstances’ greenfield sites in the Green Belt.
Nigel Britten, the chairman, said: “Justification for making changes to the Green Belt boundary now is justification for making more changes in the future.
“But the Green Belt and the two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are what define the special quality of the Sevenoaks countryside and we will do our utmost to protect it.”
The council received additional site submissions for greenfield Green Belt sites during the draft Plan consultation. The following are considered potentially suitable for inclusion in the Local Plan and will be consulted on alongside the Regulation 19 consultation:

  • South of Redhill Road, New Ash Green
  • Between Hartfield Road and Hever Road, Edenbridge
  • West of Childsbridge Lane and south of the recreation ground, Kemsing
  • North and south of Kemsing station

The Regulation 19 version of the Plan will include the associated Supplementary Planning Documents – Affordable Housing SPD, Development in the Green Belt SPD and Design Review Panel SPD.
The council will ultimately publish the Regulation 19 version on the basis that it considers it to be sound, legally compliant and prepared in accordance with the ‘duty to cooperate’ with neighbouring planning authorities.
Prior to the submission of the Plan for examination, the council will prepare an Issues Paper to demonstrate that an appropriate approach has been taken with regard to density.
It must also show the supply of housing sites is deliverable (for the first five years of the Plan) and developable (years 6-10). Further, it must provide evidence that all non-Green Belt sites have been fully explored before going through a peer review process with the Planning Inspectorate.
It is anticipated public consultation on the pre-submission version of the Plan will take place from Tuesday, December 18, to Sunday, February 3, followed by submission and examination in the spring or summer of next year, with adoption by the end of 2019.

  • For more on this story, see here
  • To read the papers for the cabinet, see here
  • To track the changes being made to the Local Plan, visit Appendix 5 of the Cabinet papers here

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sevenoaks: where will the bricks and mortar be landing?

River Darent at Shoreham (pic Glen Humble, flickr)

People in and around Sevenoaks should have a clearer idea this month about where future housing development in the district could be targeted.
With the government’s Objectively Assessed Need formula arriving at a figure of 13,960 properties to be built from 2015-2035 in a district that is 93 per cent Green Belt and two-thirds AONB, the publication on Thursday, November 15, of papers for Sevenoaks District Council’s planning advisory committee will detail the sites put forward for housing.
Sites on previously developed land (PDL) are expected to take some 6,000 properties, but that of course leaves a huge gap of almost 8,000 new homes.
To cover the gap, the council is focusing initially on PDL within the Green Belt and, finally, greenfield sites within the Green Belt for which there may be “exceptional circumstances”.
Possible site allocations range from fewer than 50 to the staggering 2,500 at Pedham Place, near Swanley.
There is concern over how the local authority might interpret PDL, which might not qualify as such according to the National Planning Policy Framework definition.
Nigel Britten, chairman of Sevenoaks CPRE, said: “We have objected in detail to the major Green Belt sites while not supporting any of them.
“The council knows it won’t get away with an unrealistic housing figure so must produce something that will satisfy the Local Plan inspector while not causing a mayhem of protest.”

  • A protest march against one potential development in the Green Belt is being held in Sevenoaks at the weekend.
    The event has been organised by the Halstead Green Belt Future group to highlight plans for almost 2,000 homes in the village, 800 of which would be on Green Belt land.
    Marchers will meet at Sevenoaks railway station at 2pm on Saturday, November 10, and head to the district council offices for 2.30pm, when letters of objection to the district’s draft Local Plan will be handed over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Learn about the draft Sevenoaks Local Plan: you still have time to comment

More demand on the River Darent seems certain (pic Glen Humble, flickr)

Consultation on the Sevenoaks draft Local Plan (2015-35) ends on Monday, September 10.
CPRE Kent has taken calls in recent weeks from residents across the district concerned what a proposed housing target of 13,960 new homes might mean for them and for the status of the Green Belt.
In response, we have produced a briefing that covers the core issues relating to new-housing allocation within the draft Local Plan. We also make our own observations on the document.
You can see the briefing and our observations here
Sevenoaks District Council has organised a series of drop-in sessions, where you can learn more about the Local Plan. You can still make two of these:

  • Swanley Link (BR8 7AE): Wednesday, August 29, 2pm-8pm
  • Sevenoaks District Council (TN13 1HG): Wednesday, September 5, 2pm-8pm

We can not stress strongly enough that if you have concerns about what is proposed by the council in its Local Plan, or you simply want to be involved in the future of Sevenoaks district, you need to respond to the consultation by Monday, September 10.
You can do that here

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sevenoaks draft Local Plan: a briefing and CPRE Kent observations

What future for the Green Belt in Sevenoaks district? (pic Susan Pittman)

Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan strategy

The draft Local Plan (2015-35) sets out the council’s strategy of:

  • providing 13,960 homes to meet its local housing need
  • focusing growth at existing settlements and maximising supply (through increased density)
  • redevelopment of previously developed land (and of locally-defined brownfield land in sustainable locations)
  • development of greenfield Green Belt land only in exceptional circumstances, where social and community infrastructure is being proposed in addition to housing, which could help address evidenced infrastructure deficiencies in the local area

 

Locally-defined brownfield land
Sevenoaks District Council is seeking to introduce the concept of locally- defined brownfield land as a means of gleaning as many housing sites as possible to contribute towards the requirement of 13,960 homes.
This definition goes beyond the (Nationally Planning Policy Framework) NPPF definition of previously developed land (PDL) – and could have serious repercussions for other Kent Green Belt authorities.

Locally-defined exceptional circumstances
The council is also seeking to include a local definition of exceptional circumstances.
The draft NPPF states that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified.
The council is exploring in its draft Local Plan whether its Green Belt boundaries should be altered to meet its housing need. Twelve exceptional-circumstances sites have been put forward for consideration.
The council acknowledges that Sevenoaks is a highly constrained district, with 93% being Green Belt and 60% (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) AONB.
It is explained at para 1.14 of the draft Plan that consultation is taking place on all these sites to receive stakeholder comments… and that the inclusion of these sites in this consultation does not guarantee their inclusion in the final draft Local Plan.
The table below lists the 12 exceptional-circumstances sites.

Location                               Policy            No. of units            Site area (hectares)

Sevenoaks
Sevenoaks Quarry                 MX43             600                            94

Land west of Chevening        MX49             26-30                        1.7
Road, Chipstead                    HO53

Land east of London             MX50             40                              8.5
Road, Dunton Green             HO70

Swanley
Land between Beechlea       MX54a/b         750                            39.5
Lane and Highlands Hill,      HO188
Swanley

Pedham Place, Swanley/      MX48             c2,500                       117.6
Farningham/Eynsford

Edenbridge
Land south and east of        HO189 &        515                             27.2
Four Elms Road or              HO190
———————————— MX25 &
———————————–  MX26
———————————— HO223

Land at Crouch House        MX51              250                             18.4
Road or                              HO158

Land at Breezehurst            MX10             450                             18
Farm

and
Land west of Romani          MX44             80                               6.7
Way

Westerham
Land north and east of        HO371 &       600                             21.8
Westerham                          HO372
————————————-HO373 &
———————————— HO374
———————————— EM17

Fawkham/Hartley
Corinthian and                     MX52 &         Corinthian 570        74.6
Banckside                            MX53             Banckside  230
———————————— HO162 &
———————————— HO163

Halstead/Pratt’s
Bottom

Broke Hill golf course        MX41             800                             60.2

Subtotal       6,800

CPRE Kent observations on the Sevenoaks Local Plan

In general, CPRE Kent supports a development strategy that meets the following criteria:

  1. Prioritises the redevelopment of appropriate, sustainably-located previously-developed land. It does not support development on locally-defined brownfield land in unsustainable locations.
  2. Does not lead to the loss of best and most versatile agricultural land, Green Belt, AONB and other designations.
  3. Focuses growth at existing settlements and maximises supply through increased densities at sustainable locations.
  4. Recognises the acute need for rural affordable housing.

 

CPRE Kent is concerned about the level of housing proposed. It is noted that the 2015 SHMA sets out objectively assessed need based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2012-based sub-national population projections and 2012-based household projection figures.
These figures will need to be reviewed in light of the 2016 mid-year figures and the household projections (expected next month).
Following the decline in population (2012-2016), it would seem reasonable to assume that household projections will also be in decline. However, we wait with interest to see what the government’s stance on this will be.

CPRE Kent has serious reservations that the construction industry will be capable of delivering the proposed level of housing. Average housing completions for the district are noted as 250dpa (dwellings per annum) over the last 10 years. With the suggested local housing need of 13,960, this would rise to 698dpa.

CPRE Kent has serious reservations over the need to deliver homes in accordance with the standard methodology for calculating local housing need, for the following reasons:

  1. The NPPF states that the government attaches great importance to the Green Belt – it states that “once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of Plans. Strategic policies should establish the need for any changes to Green Belt boundaries, having regard to their intended permanence in the long term, so they can endure beyond the Plan period”.
  2. One of the Green Belt purposes is to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. Resisting development in the Green Belt will help encourage the bringing forward of previously developed land in the urban area.
  3. New housing in the Green Belt is likely to be for large properties that won’t meet the demand of local people who genuinely require housing in the villages and settlements within, or washed over, the Green Belt.

CPRE Kent does not consider that allocating land to meet local housing need with the promise of social and community infrastructure sufficiently demonstrates exceptional circumstances.
CPRE Kent is concerned that the harm caused to the purposes of the Green Belt designation and other considerations would not be outweighed by the requirements of the local housing need requirement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018