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Council refused permission to appeal High Court ruling on failure to comply with duty to cooperate

Sevenoaks District Council has been refused permission to appeal a Planning Court ruling rejecting its legal challenge to a finding by a planning inspector that it had failed to comply with the duty to cooperate when preparing the Sevenoaks District Local Plan for its administrative area.

In November 2020 Mr Justice Dove concluded that there was no substance in the four grounds of challenge the council had advanced.

The inspector had rejected Sevenoaks’ draft Local Plan in 2019 over the duty to cooperate set out in section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

Sevenoaks said last week that, prior to submitting its plan for examination, it had worked closely with neighbouring councils and called in a number of experts to look at its plan prior to submission. “These included senior planning lawyers, former planning inspectors and the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service. All were asked specifically to test the ‘Duty to Co-operate’ element of the plan and all found that the Council had met or exceeded the duty.”

Commenting on the refusal of permission to appeal, Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Sevenoaks, said: “We spent the best part of five years putting together a plan that had broad community support. It protected the special environment of the District, which is 93% Green Belt and 60% Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whilst balancing the need for new housing and employment growth.

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“It became clear that even with a plan for sustainable development with infrastructure, homes and jobs, if we couldn’t find other councils to take the growth we could not plan for due to the constraints of the District, then despite all the mountains of evidence showing we had tried, the Government Planning Inspector would find against our plan.”

Cllr Julia Thornton, the council’s Cabinet member for Development & Conservation, added: “We are clearly disappointed with this latest development. The ‘duty to cooperate’, the reason given by the Planning Inspector to reject our plan in 2019, has led to a number of other Local Plans being thrown out at the inspection stage. This duty is now set to be abolished in the Government’s latest planning reforms. In our opinion, the removal of the ‘duty to cooperate’ is an open admission that it is neither effective nor workable in the Local Plan making process.

“Our focus now moves to actions that we can take to continue to protect the beautiful, rural nature of our District and meet local housing and employment needs. We are definitely not an anti-development Council. While the existing Local Plan and national planning guidance will continue to be used to protect our natural environment and help decide planning applications, we will be speaking with the Secretary of State to put forward a strategy that ensures a new Local Plan can be put in place as soon as possible.

“We are already working positively towards our objective of producing a Local Plan that protects the overwhelming majority of our Green Belt, while bringing forward improvements to the District’s infrastructure and much needed affordable new homes.”

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