Published: Monday, 12th April 2021
Sevenoaks District Council has vowed it will continue to protect the Green Belt after it was refused permission to appeal against an unsuccessful Judicial Review.
Last December, the Council asked for permission to challenge a Judicial Review ruling that upheld the Planning Inspector’s reasons for rejecting its draft Local Plan. The Council was informed last Friday (8 April 2021) it had not succeeded with the challenge.
In 2019, the Planning Inspector rejected the Council’s draft Local Plan for failing on the ‘Duty to Co-operate’. The Council had, prior to submitting its plan for examination, worked closely with neighbouring councils and called in a number of experts to look at its plan prior to submission. These included senior planning lawyers, former planning inspectors and the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service. All were asked specifically to test the ‘Duty to Co-operate’ element of the plan and all found that the Council had met or exceeded the duty.
The Planning Inspector’s reasons for rejecting the plan came to light after the first round of the Local Plan hearings in October 2019, a full seven months after the Plan and the supporting evidence was submitted to the Planning Inspector. Within the submission, there were more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the Council had worked with its neighbours.
In June 2020, permission was granted to review the Planning Inspector’s decision. The judicial review was heard at the High Court on 2 and 3 September 2020. The Court published its decision to reject the Council’s claim on 13 November 2020. The Council lodged an application to appeal against the Judicial Review ruling in early December 2020.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “We spent the best part of five years putting together a plan that had broad community support. It protected the special environment of the District, which is 93% Green Belt and 60% Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst balancing the need for new housing and employment growth. It became clear that even with a plan for sustainable development with infrastructure, homes and jobs, if we couldn’t find other councils to take the growth we could not plan for due to the constraints of the District, then despite all the mountains of evidence showing we had tried, the Government Planning Inspector would find against our plan.
“I would like to thank the District’s three Members of Parliament who have worked with us throughout this period and will be writing again to Ministers to set out how we intend to take forward a positive plan that respects the District’s unique character.”
Cllr Julia Thornton, the Council’s Cabinet member for Development & Conservation, adds:
“We are clearly disappointed with this latest development. The ‘duty to cooperate’, the reason given by the Planning Inspector to reject our plan in 2019, has led to a number of other Local Plans being thrown out at the inspection stage. This duty is now set to be abolished in the Government’s latest 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.
“Our focus now moves to actions that we can take to continue to protect the beautiful, rural nature of our District and meet local housing and employment needs. We are definitely not an anti-development Council. While the existing Local Plan and national planning guidance will continue to be used to protect our natural environment and help decide planning applications, we will be speaking with the Secretary of State to put forward a strategy that ensures a new Local Plan can be put in place as soon as possible.
“We are already working positively towards our objective of producing a Local Plan that protects the overwhelming majority of our Green Belt, while bringing forward improvements to the District’s infrastructure and much needed affordable new homes.”