Published: 12:16, 01 June 2020
| Updated: 12:44, 01 June 2020
A group of MPs has backed Sevenoaks District Council's (SDC) Local Plan and urged the Secretary of State for Housing to overrule the planning inspectorate's decision to reject it.
MPs Laura Trott, Tom Tugendhat and Gareth Johnson have asked Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to allow the blueprint for development in the district up to 2035, to progress by 'calling' it in.
The trio argue that the Planning Inspectorate, which falls under Mr Jenrick's jurisdiction, is "stalling" the progress of building infrastructure and homes in the area, after it ruled that the plan could not be adopted, following a lengthy examination process.
They have asked Mr Jenrick to ensure that the recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate is reconsidered.
Planning inspector Karen Baker was not satisfied the council had worked with other local authorities to solve the unmet housing need and ruled the plan was not legally compliant in respect of the Duty to Co-operate.
However, SDC strongly refute this, arguing that more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the council had worked with its neighbours, had been submitted with the plan.
Sevenoaks is the only local authority in the county to prepare a plan for fewer homes than would be suggested using the government's formula for "objectively assessed housing need."
The Sevenoaks' housing need figure came to 11,312 homes over its 16-year plan period, but the council decide to draw up a local plan that would provide only 9,996 homes, or 88% of the "requirement" arguing that the extensive area of green belt in the district made it impossible to meet the whole target.
MP Laura Trott, who represents Sevenoaks and Swanley, said “It is important that the need for housing is not only recognised but also met by the local plan.
"However, a local plan must also be robust so that local authorities can ensure the right type of developments happen in the right place, at the right time.
"From engaging with thousands of residents, as well as neighbouring authorities, Sevenoaks District Council have submitted a plan that both protects the green belt, whist at the same time providing almost 10,000 much needed homes for the district.
'I share the frustrations of many that all this hard work is now sitting dormant...'
“I share the frustrations of many that all this hard work is now sitting dormant, and I today urge, alongside my Kent colleagues, that the Secretary of State intervenes so that the examination of the plan can proceed and enable much needed housing and infrastructure to be provided."
MP Tom Tugendhat, who represents Edenbridge and the surrounding villages, said “It is essential that development happens to meet housing need, but only in the right places.
"I am concerned that the Planning Inspectorate stalling the local plan is putting at risk the hard work in developing a plan that works for the district.”
“It is not right for the Planning Inspectorate to block this for the reasons they have given, when the evidence is clear that Sevenoaks District Council met its requirements."
MP Gareth Johnson, who represents Hartley and Hodsoll Street, said: “The local plan is a sensible plan that reflects the housing needs of the local area whilst remaining sensitive to the character of villages such as Hartley. It meets the requirements of the Planning Inspectorate and I hope the Secretary of State recognises this."
In a final report on the plan published in March, Mrs Baker acknowledged the council had prepared a joint evidence base with other local authorities which underpins many policies in the plan, such as a Strategic Housing Market Assessment with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
However, she said: "In respect of compliance with the Duty to Co-operate, my concerns relate to the lack of ongoing, active and constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities in an attempt to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the inadequacy of strategic cross boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated."