Published: Friday, 28th September 2018
Sevenoaks District Council has reluctantly decided not to contest an appeal against its refusal of a planning application to redevelop Swanley Centre after the Government changed national planning policy.
The planning application was lodged with Sevenoaks District Council in 2017 by landowners U+I. Their proposal was to demolish the existing centre and replace it with seven tower blocks ranging from three to 11 stories high providing 303 new homes and 4,318 square metres of commercial and retail space.
Within their submission, the landowners accepted the towers could block natural sunlight to some nearby homes. In addition, the Council’s Development Control Committee had concerns about car parking arrangements, the height, scale and bulk of the proposals, believing they were out-of-keeping with the area, and that no affordable housing was proposed and refused the application at its meeting on 16 November 2017. The following April, the landowners appealed to the Government’s Planning Inspector against the Council’s decision.
However, in July 2018, the Government changed national planning policy putting a greater emphasis on the delivery of homes, making the best use of land, increasing densities and a flexible approach to planning policies that would otherwise hinder the efficient use of a site, such as the impact of the loss of daylight.
The Council sought external legal advice and it was told it would no longer be wise to contest the appeal and if it did so, it could have acted unreasonably. If this was the case, the Council could be liable for significant costs that would be payable to the landowner.
Cllr Gary Williamson, the Council’s Chairman of the Development Control Committee, says: “The Committee refused this application as we had serious concerns about the impact on neighbours and the wider town. But landowners can appeal to the Bristol-based Planning Inspectorate and thanks in part to recent changes to national planning policy, it became clear it would no longer be right to contest the appeal.
“It is genuinely frustrating and we feel strongly we had made the right local decision. But the final say would have been taken out of our hands hundreds of miles away from Swanley and if our decision was overturned, local tax payers could have been landed with a substantial bill.”
Sevenoaks District Council is now talking with the Planning Inspector and the landowner about what should happen next.