The big news for the beginning of this year in regional planning is that, on 6 January, Wealden District Council in East Sussex withdrew its submitted plan from examination on the recommendation of the Inspector, following a rather regrettable report being published accusing Wealden of failing to comply with the duty to cooperate and identifying some “significant failings in respect of the soundness of the submitted Plan" (Inspector's Report). The effect of the delay to the examination of the local plan inevitably means that not only is Wealden more vulnerable to unconstrained development (or at least development which may not feel the robust arm of recently adopted policies) but will also cast an air of insecurity over the residential and commercial development of the future in the district. Whilst the Council claims that the protection of the Ashdown Forest is at the heart of all of its concerns, the Inspector appears to have come to the conclusion that it is primarily a fundamental problem with the way in which Wealden have communicated with its neighbouring authorities which has created the current situation. She states, “My central concern is respect of the legal compliance of the plan relates to the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities and Natural England in respect of impacts on habitats and landscape and in respect of the issue of unmet housing need in Eastbourne.” Paragraphs 14 to 21 of her report specifically highlight the key matters which the Inspector considered problematic in Wealden’s approach to cross-border consultation.
Second only in its published timing is the news that Sevenoaks District Council in Kent is refusing to withdraw its local plan from examination following a similar indication by a different Inspector as to the soundness of its submitted plan (Letter of refusal). Sevenoaks has taken a strong approach with the Inspector, accusing her of taking an “irrational position” which goes against the advice that it received from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in relation to its engagement with the Planning Advisory Service. The Council has taken a strong hand in its response to the Inspector’s recommendation to withdraw its plan, stating that she has “not demonstrated a clear understanding of what constructive engagement is or should look like in the Sevenoaks context, only what it is not." The Council’s Leader, Cllr Fleming, has indicated that he intends on writing to the Secretary of State asking him to intervene in the matter. This is a bold move by a local authority and one which I’m sure will be watched with great interest as the discussions continue.
The Sevenoaks District Council article regarding the withdrawal can be found here.