News items listed in date order – latest item first. Further details can be obtained by following the links.

Consultation open for New Sevenoaks Local Plan

IMPORTANT – first consultation on the new Sevenoaks Local Plan closes 11 January 2023

Emerging New Sevenoaks Local Plan

Please read this important update about the emerging new Sevenoaks Local Plan

Ministers reveal details of planning reform rethink

Good news – Plans for a zonal system that would have automatically granted development rights to some areas will be watered down, and there will be less emphasis on the 300,000 national housing target, ministers have also suggested. For more details read the article on the Local Government Chronicle’s website.

The Planning Bill is due to go before parliament this spring.

Permission to appeal judicial review refused

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.

Judicial review appeal requested

In early December, SDC lodged an application to appeal against the unsuccessful Judicial Review of their draft local plan. They are waiting for the High Court to consider this application. Further details will be published when available…

Judicial review unsuccessful

On 13 November 2020 Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council said:

We are clearly disappointed and somewhat bemused by the ruling from the Honourable Mr Justice Dove, especially as the ‘duty to cooperate’, the reason given by the Planning Inspector to reject our plan, is set to be abolished in the Government’s own proposed 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. However, despite this, we believe we both met and exceeded the requirement. The Government’s own Planning Advisory Service and a number of former senior planning inspectors also supported this position.

“Court action is never something we would enter into lightly. But, our plan reflects our communities’ priorities of protecting the rural nature of the District and the Green Belt whilst providing much needed new homes and improved local infrastructure. We will always stand up for the communities we serve.”

“We are reviewing the judgement in detail and considering our options.”

The existing Local Plan, with all its current protections, will continue to be used to help decide planning applications until a new plan is agreed.

Local Plan set to have its day in court

On 4 June 2020 SDC announced that it has been granted permission by the High Court to bring a judicial review against the Planning Inspector’s decision to reject the draft Local Plan, having concluded that all grounds for the Council’s claim are arguable. This is an important first step to getting the Local Plan approved.

SDC has taken action to further protect Green Belt sites that have been put up for sale

On Friday 15 May Cllr Peter Fleming said “Sevenoaks District Council has taken action to further protect Green Belt sites that have been put up for sale and warns potential buyers to check with the council before purchasing. SDC has served notice on two plots of land being sold in Edenbridge and West Kingsdown. Despite the marketing materials and particulars saying otherwise, the sites are in the Green Belt and are unlikely to get permission for housing or any other development.”

CPRE Kent has backed SDC’s decision to begin judicial review proceedings

On Monday 11 May SDC announced that CPRE Kent had backed the Council’s decision to begin judicial review proceedings in its challenge to the Planning Inspectorate. Nigel Britten, the countryside charity’s district chairman, said: “The planning system does quite clearly give the council the right not to sacrifice these areas of national importance, yet the inspector seems unwilling to recognise that fact and to wish to impose impractically high thresholds for any deviation from the government’s artificial and unrealistic housing targets. If the judicial review goes ahead, many councils – and CPRE – will be hoping that Sevenoaks District Council succeeds”.

On Friday 17 April 2020 SDC began Judicial Review proceedings after the Government Planning Inspector refused to endorse its new Local Plan. It could be a long time before anything is decided, especially as the courts aren’t meeting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Inspector’s conclusions after the hearings

The Inspector’s Final Report

The Inspector wrote to SDC on 2.3.20, setting out several aspects of the Local Plan on which she would have been likely to require further evidence to allow her to reach conclusions and enclosing a letter giving her thoughts on the soundness of the Plan and the final Report on the Examination of the Sevenoaks District Local Plan. This recommended that the Local Plan should not be adopted.

SDC writes to the Secretary of State

The Council’s letter to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (21.1.20) outlined its concerns about the Planning Inspectors’ conclusions with regards to the Local Plan examination. Key points:
“The Council is particularly concerned that it took some 7 months for the Inspector to raise these issues, when all of the information necessary to make a decision … was made available at the point of submission.”
“The Inspector … proceeded with two weeks of hearing sessions, day one of which dealt with DtC [Duty to Cooperate], the Inspector had ample opportunity to halt the proceedings if we hadn’t met the duty. … The substantial costs associated with the process, which exceed £100,000 of taxpayers money, could and should have been avoided.”
“We are disappointed at the apparent lack of consistency between Inspectors and the arbitrary nature of the decision making process on this key matter.”
“The Council faced considerable opposition to the proposed release of 220 hectares of Green Belt land to meet housing need and it is an achievement that the Plan reached the examination stage at all. We are keen to get a Plan in place as soon as possible and the Inspector’s conclusions will set this process back considerably. I would reiterate the point that this Plan will result in a 300% uplift in housing delivery from the current Core Strategy, in an area where 93% of land is designated Green Belt. Given the Government’s current housebuilding target, this represents a considerable achievement and a positive approach to plan making.”
“Sevenoaks is not an anti-development Council. We have brought forward innovative solutions to deliver new homes in the district, which will stall if the Inspector’s misguided conclusions are implemented. This cannot be right and I would be grateful if we could please meet at your earliest convenience to discuss the points raised in this letter.”

SDC refuses to voluntarily withdraw the Local Plan

SDC wrote to the Inspector on 3.1.20. Concluding comments:
“The Council and other participants in the examination process disagree with the planning judgements you have made regarding the duty to co-operate. The flawed interpretation of planning regulations and guidance does not take account of local circumstances in Sevenoaks or surrounding local authority areas. It is indeed the case that all local authorities are struggling to meet their own needs and there is no scope to accommodate unmet need elsewhere through the duty.
Your conclusions will delay the delivery of much needed housing and local infrastructure in the district and fail all participants who have sought to assist you over the last 8 months. It should not take this amount of time to reach a conclusion on such a fundamental aspect of the examination process.
For the reasons outlined above and in previous correspondence, the Council is not proposing to voluntarily withdraw the plan from examination. I would therefore ask that you issue your report as soon as possible, so that we can move forward.”

Inspector’s response to SDC

The Inspector responded on 13.12.19. Concluding comments:
“Having considered the further evidence presented to me by the Council in response to my letters, I remain of the view that the Council has not adequately undertaken constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need in the District and has failed to plan strategically by not sufficiently examining how these needs could be accommodated. The absence of such engagement prior to submission means that the submitted Plan has not been shaped by adequate consideration of how Sevenoaks’ full housing need was to be met.”
“I will not be accepting any further comments on this matter. Consequently, unless the Council confirms that it intends to withdraw the Plan from Examination, the only course of action open to me is to prepare a Report concluding that the Plan is not legally compliant in respect of the Duty to Co-operate and recommending that it is not adopted.”

SDC’s detailed response to the Inspector’s second letter

The council responded in more detail on 18.11.19 saying, in summary:
“The information contained in this letter reinforces our view that the requirements of the duty have been met. The Council believes that it has adopted a constructive approach to engagement and no evidence has been presented to indicate that unmet need could be accommodated in adjoining local authority areas. We are of the view that withdrawing the plan from examination at this stage fails all stakeholders in the process and does not represent a positive or pragmatic approach to plan making.”

SDC’s initial response to the Inspector’s second letter

The council responded on 31.10.19 saying, in summary “In conclusion to this initial response, the Council is disappointed with your findings, because it has complied with the duty and there is no scope to meet unmet need elsewhere.”

Inspector’s second letter to the Council following Stage 1 hearing sessions

The Inspector provided more detail on 28.10.19

SDC’s response to the Inspector

The Council believes that withdrawing the plan from examination would run contrary
to the spirt of the Government’s own advice on Plan Making (21.10.19)

Inspector’s letter to the Council following the Stage 1 hearing sessions

The Inspector asked SDC to withdraw the Local Plan due to significant concerns (14 October 2019) The Stage 2 hearings were cancelled.

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