Judicial Review Against Planning Inspectors Granted to Sevenoaks Council

Judicial review has been granted to Sevenoaks District Council against the decision of a Planning Inspector to reject its emerging Local Plan over failure of the Council to meet the duty to cooperate.

The Inspector’s final report on the draft plan, issued on 2 March 2020, followed an examination of the Council’s draft Local Plan which had taken place in September and October 2019.  It had asked Sevenoaks Council to withdraw its Local Plan and concluded that the Plan was not legally complaint with regard to the duty to cooperate, because the Council had not satisfactorily worked with neighbouring authorities to accommodate homes it could not plan for as a result of the green belt and other restrictions.

The Inspector, Karen Baker, accepted that the Council had prepared a joint evidence base with other local authorities, including a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) with neighbouring Turnbridge Wells Borough Council. However, she stated that the assessment of housing did not include any specific provision for meeting unmet needs of adjoining areas, which the SHMA stipulate need to be considered through the duty to cooperate.

Sevenoaks District Council in their response vehemently refused to withdraw the documents, consequently in April they issued a legal challenge to the Inspector’s decision in the High Court. The Court had issued a notification granting permission for review.

The High Court Judge, Honourable Mr Justice Swift, concluded that “all grounds for the Council’s claim are arguable, hence permission for judicial review was granted, thus clearing the first hurdle of the process”.

The Judge noted more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the Council had worked with its neighbouring Councils during the production of the plan, whilst these neighbouring Councils supported Sevenoaks Council’s evidence and approach on this matter.

The Council’s Cabinet Member for Development and Conservation, Julia Thornton, noted that “This is great news as it means the High Court believes our position that the Planning Inspectorate may have a case to answer”. She further noted that the Council had followed the relevant guidance when they developed the Plan and the evidence, they had provided to the Planning Inspector justified their position.

The Council insisted that they had no choice but to take a legal route to demonstrate how serious and committed they are to their residents, against what they believe is a fundamental failure by the Planning Inspectorate to take account of the weight of evidence in front of them.

The Council strongly believe that the Inspector had erroneously interpreted key parts of the Local Plan requirements. The Council noted that their Local Plan was the “first in the country” to be assessed under the revised 2018 National Planning Policy Framework.

We will keep you informed of the Court decision concerning this case when the ruling is made.

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