Sevenoaks granted permission to progress legal challenge against inspector's failure of its local plan

Sevenoaks District Council has been granted permission to bring a judicial review against a planning inspector’s decision to reject its emerging local plan over a failure to meet the duty to cooperate.

Sevenoaks, Kent. Pic: Des Blenkinsopp,
Sevenoaks, Kent. Pic: Des Blenkinsopp,

In her final report on the plan, which was issued in March following an examination last year, inspector Karen Baker asked Sevenoaks to withdraw its local plan.

The report concluded that the plan was not legally compliant in respect of the duty to co-operate because Sevenoaks had not satisfactorily worked with neighbouring authorities to accommodate homes it could not plan for due to green belt and other restrictions.

In her report, Baker acknowledged that the council had prepared a joint evidence base with other local planning authorities, including a strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) with Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

But, according to the report, this assessment of housing did not include any specific provision for meeting unmet needs of adjoining areas, which the SHMA says will need to be considered through the duty to co-operate.

However, the local authority has refused to withdraw the document and in April launched a legal challenge to the inspector's decision.

The council announced yesterday that the High Court issued a notification on Tuesday granting permission for the review.

It said the Honourable Mr Justice Swift "concluded all grounds for the council’s claim are arguable and permission for judicial review was granted, clearing the first hurdle of the process".

In a statement, the council said it "strongly rejected" the inspector's conclusion, which it said only emerged after the first round of the local plan hearings in October, seven months after the council had submitted the document.

It added that the local plan submission included "more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the council had worked with its neighbours during the production of the plan", while neighbouring authorities "supported the council’s evidence and approach on this matter".

Julia Thornton, the council’s cabinet member for development and conservation, said: “This is great news as it means the High Court believes our position that the Planning Inspectorate may have a case to answer. This is an important first step to getting our local plan approved.

“We firmly believe we had followed the relevant guidance when we developed the plan. The evidence we provided to the planning inspector backs this up.

“In our opinion, the inspector has incorrectly interpreted key parts of the local plan requirements.

“Taking court action is not something we would take lightly, but we feel we have no choice.”

Also this week, a trio of local Conservative MPs wrote to the housing secretary urging him to call in the plan.

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