Heavy criticism of Inspector after controversial Local Plan rejected

Heavy criticism of Inspector after controversial Local Plan rejected

Council leader Peter Fleming pledged to ‘stand up’ to the ‘huge abuse’ of the process by the Inspector, Karen Baker, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Ms Baker wrote to SDC calling on it to withdraw the plan because it had failed in its ‘duty to co-operate’ with other councils such as Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge & Malling to find sites for new homes.

Sevenoaks had defied the government’s quota for housing of 11,312 homes by the year 2035, saying it would only provide 9,410 – almost 2,000 fewer than they have been told to build.

It argued that it could not fulfil the target because 93 per cent of the district is wihin the Green Belt – which can only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances.’

After six months perusing the document, Ms Baker said: “My main concern relates to the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need.”

Among several other problem areas she also criticised the ‘assessment of the Green Belt’.

SDC has countered by saying: “Evidence submitted to the Inspector clearly demonstrates the council had worked closely with its eight neighbouring councils since 2015 when it began the new Plan.

“In April, the council met with the Government’s Planning Advisory Service to discuss its neighbours’ ability to assist with unmet housing need. The meeting confirmed neighbouring authorities could not help.

“Before submitting the plan, the council also sought the opinion of a QC and industry experts, including former senior Planning Inspectors, who also advised the council’s approach was sound.”

Ms Baker had noted that the other authorities were not formally contacted ‘until just before the Local Plan was submitted’.

SDC Leader Peter Fleming said: “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.

“The inspector had our submission for six months and asked over 500 questions.

“Had there been a fundamental problem, I would have expected the examination not to have gone ahead from the start.

“As a Council we decided early on that we would follow an evidence-led approach, not prejudging any site and going where our plan-making policy and the evidence took us.

“To call into question an evidence-led approach comes to the root of our concerns with the actions of the Inspector.

“If we are not to follow the evidence to make our plan then the Government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites.

“We need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that local plans are in any way locally led.

He added: “But the most damning comment has to be left for the Inspector’s approach, to publish her brief note before allowing the council to either see her full reasoning or have a chance to respond.

“This suggests her mind is far from open and she and her masters have made their minds up.”

Cllr Julia Thornton, Cabinet Member for Development and Conservation, said: “We received more than 235,000 comments and residents told us loud and clear, they wanted us to continue to protect the district while providing new homes and infrastructure for the future.

“Taking the Local Plan off the table puts at risk the new infrastructure, including the schools, medical and leisure facilities, we really need.”


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