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Sevenoaks vows not to withdraw plan

Words: Laura Edgar
Sevenoaks / iStock-488789291

Sevenoaks District Council has vowed that it won't voluntarily withdraw its draft local plan, despite a recommendation from a planning inspector to do so.

The pledge was made in a letter to inspector Karen L Baker, who wrote to the council at the end of 2019.

Baker stated that she concluded the council had not complied with its duty to cooperate. “This could not be resolved by finding the plan sound conditional upon a review, nor would the council have the option to undertake further work, as any failure in the duty to cooperate cannot be rectified following submission.”

Unless the council confirms that it will withdraw the plan from examination, Baker said she would prepare a report concluding that the plan is not legally compliant in respect of the duty to cooperate and recommend that it is not adopted. She has given the council until Friday 17 January.

She will set out set her interim conclusions on other aspects of the plan once the plan is either withdrawn or her final report has been submitted.

In response, James Gleave, the council's strategic planning manager, said Baker had not demonstrated “a clear understanding of what constructive engagement is or should look like in the Sevenoaks context, only what it is not”.

He wrote: “Such an understanding is an essential starting point to test all aspects of the duty, including the robustness of evidence submitted, whether further evidence is required and if so, what this should seek to achieve. Overall, it appears that you have sought to contradict, rather than consider the points raised by the council.”

The council explained that the inspector had all the evidence and documentation for almost six months before the examination and asked 523 questions, only six of which covered the duty to cooperate. Neighbouring councils also gave evidence on behalf of Sevenoaks District Council, which it says demonstrated engagement had taken place throughout the process, including a meeting hosted by the Planning Advisory Service.

Julia Thornton, the council’s cabinet member for development and conservation, commented: “In an area that is 93 per cent green belt, much of it within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, we have worked with residents, communities, developers and other groups to put forward a plan that delivers much-needed housing and infrastructure, such as medical centres, transport and schools. It continues to protect our very special environment and the rural nature of the district. The plan would meet almost 90 per cent of the government’s housing need figure for the district. This is a significant achievement considering the constraints.

“Despite our neighbouring councils confirming we had done all we could to meet the duty to cooperate, we are disappointed the planning inspector’s conclusions fail to take into account the clear evidence we and our neighbours have provided. Clearly, every council is at different stages of their own local plan and despite keeping our neighbours informed at every turn, we could not expect them to delay their own plans based on what may be possible rather than was likely according to the evidence.

“We are obviously very disappointed the planning inspector has refused to meet with us and will not to accept any further correspondence about the matter.”

The letters and news about the Sevenoaks District Council Local Plan can be found on the council website.

Read more:

Inspector advises Sevenoaks to take back its local plan

Planning Inspectorate rebuts Sevenoaks plan attack

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