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Planning Inspectorate rebuts Sevenoaks plan attack

Words: Huw Morris
Sevenoaks / iStock-488789291

The Planning Inspectorate (PINs) has hit back at fierce criticism by Sevenoaks District Council over its handling of its draft local plan.

The Planner reported in October that inspector Karen Baker had urged the council to withdraw the plan, claiming it had failed in its duty to cooperate with neighbouring local authorities on sites for new housing.

She wrote that “the council did not formally ask neighbouring authorities if they were in a position to address its unmet housing need until just before the local plan was submitted for examination”.

The council said it would provide 9,410 homes by 2035, below the government’s housing target of 11,312, arguing that 93 per cent of the district is within the green belt. 

However, Sevenoaks said its evidence to the inspector “clearly demonstrates the council had worked closely with its eight neighbouring councils since 2015 when it began the new plan”, citing a meeting in April with the Planning Advisory Service to discuss its neighbouring authorities’ ability to meet housing need and this confirmed that they could not help.

The council said it had also sought the opinion of a QC and industry experts, including former senior planning inspectors, who also advised that its approach was sound.

“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,” said council leader Peter Fleming. “Had there been a fundamental problem, I would have expected the examination not to have gone ahead from the start.”

PINs said Baker had carefully considered all the evidence relating to the duty to cooperate, and her full conclusions have been published on the examination website.

“We understand the council wishing to express its disappointment at the outcome. Inspectors operate in an area where people and organisations have strongly held and opposing views,” according to a PINs statement.

“Inevitably the decisions and recommendations they make will be unpopular with some but it is not reasonable to question their integrity, professionalism, capability and experience.”

“We have full confidence in our local plan inspectors. They are highly experienced, conscientious professionals who act in accordance with the principles of openness, fairness and impartially.”

Image credit | iStock