Published: 13:10, 09 January 2020
| Updated: 18:35, 09 January 2020
Sevenoaks District Council is holding out against pressure from the Government to withdraw its Local 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.
The plan is currently before a Government planning inspector, Karen Baker, but after a holding a few opening meetings she cancelled the process and asked the council to withdraw the plan because, she said, the council has not adequately carried out its duty to co-operate with neighbouring councils to find sites for new homes that cannot be delivered due to constraints such as the Green Belt.
The inspector said the council had not done enough to address the "unmet housing need."
However, the council's strategic planning manager, James Gleave, has written to Mrs Baker to confirm that the district will not voluntarily withdraw its plan and disagrees with her conclusions.
Turning the table on Mrs Baker, Mr Gleave said that while she had highlighted the council’s perceived failings, she had not provided any clear understanding of what constructive engagement with neighbours should be.
She had failed to take the pragmatic approach expected in the legislation and had ignored significant evidence, much of it from the council’s neighbours and independent experts.
Furthermore, he said that the inspector had been in possession of all the evidence and documentation for almost six months before the start of the examination and had asked 523 questions.
Of those, just of six had related to the duty to co-operate.
The very first day of the examination covered the duty to co-operate and this included neighbouring councils giving evidence on Sevenoaks’ behalf.
This demonstrated engagement had taken place throughout the process, including a meeting hosted by the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service, he said.
Cllr Julia Thornton, the cabinet member for development and conservation, said: “In an area that is 93% 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."
She said: “Our neighbouring councils confirmed that we had done all we could to meet the duty to co-operate, so 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 accept any further correspondence about the matter.”
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, said: “I will be writing to the Secretary of State on this matter and urgently asking him to intervene.
"Something is very wrong with the system if a council with its communities works hard for four years to produce an evidence-based plan that delivers housing, jobs and infrastructure investment, while protecting the environment, only to be halted by a single individual.
"We will not be withdrawing our Local Plan and the inspector will produce her report in due course. We will then take the strongest action open to us.”
Mrs Baker had previously said that if the council failed to withdraw the plan, the only alternative would be a report for non-adoption to be issued.
You can view the council's letter here.