Published: Friday, 6th March 2020
The Council has expressed disappointment that, in her final report, the Inspector appointed to examine its Local Plan has cited a failure to work with its neighbouring councils to find sites for homes
Despite having the Plan since April 2019, the Government appointed Inspector, Karen Baker, informed the Council of her final conclusions this week. She claimed the Council failed in its ‘Duty to Co-operate’, in other words working with neighbouring councils to accommodate homes that could not be located in the Sevenoaks District because of constraints, including the Green Belt.
The report itself offered nothing new from previous correspondence and did not respond to the Council’s challenges throughout the process.
Whilst the Council submitted over 800 pages of evidence setting out how it had clearly worked together with its neighbours during the production of the Plan, the Inspector stated she believed this engagement had not been constructive, meaningful or happened at the correct time in the process.
Neighbouring authorities and other organisations involved in this part of the examination have supported both the Council’s evidence and approach on this key matter.
The ‘Duty to Co-operate’ was covered on the first day of the public hearings last year. The Inspector chose to continue with these sessions for two-weeks and the Council has asked for detailed comments on all the other matters that were discussed, including the approach to protecting the Green Belt. Aside from a brief covering letter, these comments have not been forthcoming.
The Council is now taking advice on its next steps.
The report setting out the Inspector’s conclusions is available at www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/localplannews
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “The Government has told us we should deliver 11,312 new homes. Over the past four years, we have worked with our communities to produce a new Local Plan that will protect the environment, nearly all of our Green Belt, whilst providing much-needed homes and improved infrastructure.”
“We are not an anti-development Council and we put forward innovative solutions to deliver almost 10,000 homes in an area that is 93% Green Belt.
“The inspector has hinted that she agrees that the council has delivered significant numbers within our Plan when put up against the District’s constraints.
“In our opinion, concluding we failed to co-operate with neighbouring councils was the only way to halt the examination. We reject any notion that we did not fully co-operate with our neighbours. We gave the Planning Inspector detailed evidence of our work with neighbours. But, from the outset, they said they couldn’t accommodate the homes we could not deliver.
“Our Local Plan is the first to be assessed under a new planning framework and, we believe, failing to meet the Government’s housing figure would impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.
“If the Inspector did have concerns over our duty to co-operate, these should have been raised soon after we had submitted our Plan, not months later, and certainly well before any public hearings took place.
“We also want to hear the Inspector’s views on the other aspects of the Plan. Considerable time, effort and expense has been spent by this Council on producing the Plan and it’s only right that the Inspector, who spent time considering it, should share her thoughts.”
“It’s a huge frustration that after so much work, we cannot take our Plan forward.
“We fundamentally disagree with the inspectors conclusions and while we consider our options one thing is certain, we will continue to stand up for our residents and the districts environment.”