Sevenoaks Council is not giving up on its Local Plan

By Kasia Banaś, Account Director  

Sevenoaks Council is not giving up on its  Local Plan. Following a firm rejection of a judicial review of the Planning Inspectorate’s decision on the local plan by the High Court, the authority has now lodged an application to appeal against the ruling. 

The Planning Inspector, Karen Baker, published her damning final examination report back in March. It concluded that the Council did not fulfil the duty to cooperate process with its neighbouring councils over the district’s unmet housing need. This decision sparked a huge amount of criticism from the Council, which claimed that there were more than 800 pages of evidence of cooperation and that “the Planning Inspector has incorrectly interpreted key parts of the Local Plan requirements”. They also voiced suspicions that being the first plan to be assessed under a new planning framework, failing to meet the Government’s housing figure was the real reason behind the Inspector finding the Plan unsound, as it would potentially impact on subsequent local plans across the country. 

Sevenoaks Council was granted permission to bring a judicial review against the Planning Inspector’s decision in June, giving the authority hope of overturning the Inspector’s decision. However, in the ruling from 13th November 2020, the court said that, contrary to the Council’s allegations, is it clear that the Inspector had regard to all of the evidence and that the reasons for coming to her decision were also “clear, full, detailed and justified.. 

Given the strong language in support of the Inspector in the ruling, the decision to apply to appeal is surprising. By putting off starting on a new plan, the Council is running the risk of missing the Secretary of State’s 2023 deadline for adopting local plans and facing intervention. Ahead of the ruling, members were confident that even if they failed in their challenge, they would not need to be starting from scratch. They would ‘only’ need to address the duty to cooperate issue and resubmit the evidence that will be out of date by now. This is a very optimistic view.  

However, councils postponing work on their new local plans, is something we have seen many authorities do in the recent months. With the planning reforms not yet set in stone and the pandemic at its height, members might be inclined to delay this politically and financially costly exercise.