Agenda item

To consider any questions by Members under paragraph 19.3 of Part 2 (The Council and District Council Members) of the Constitution, notice of which have been duly given.


Two questions had been received from Members in accordance with paragraph 19.3 of Part 2 (The Council and District Council Members) of the Constitution.


Question 1:  Cllr Purves


‘The lack of a Local Plan has the potential of creating an open season for developers. Does the Council accept the urgency of submitting a new Local Plan and give an approximate date?’


Response: Leader of the Council


The Leader advised that the latest position in relation to the preparation of the emerging Local Plan had been circulated to Members by the Strategic Planning Manager on Friday 9 April, and his personal views on the matter were clearly set out in a statement available on the Council’s website.


Although disappointing, the conclusions of the Inspector and both Judges reinforced the abject failure of the duty to co-operate, as a means of achieving the Government’s objective to ensure that Local Plans were put in place as soon as possible.  It is worth noting that the Government seems to have come to the same conclusion as the Planning White Paper looks to remove the duty. It can only be hoped that the Government realised however late in the day that the duty to cooperate has been used by the Inspectorate to throw out perfectly good Local Plans, plans that balance growth with the protection of the environment, plans that have taken years to craft, are evidence based, and come with broad public support such as out local plan.


Sevenoaks was certainty not an anti-development Council and he was pleased the Government had offered to work with the Planning Inspectorate to ensure a new Local Plan could be prioritised. Officers were working on a plan of action to make sure this happened and progress would be reported at the next meeting of the Development and Conservation Advisory Committee.


As to whether legal action was justified, he believed it was with over 800 pages of evidence  the Government’s own Planning Advisory Service, a leading planning QC and former senior planning inspectors, all saying the Council had met the duty to cooperate, it would have been utterly wrong not to have taken it through the courts.  He added that it should also be remembered that beyond the legal action there remained outstanding issues for the Inspectorate to answer. The Planning Inspector had teased that there were other issues with the plan, but his had not been expanded on in the letter to the Council, and despite repeatedly asking, they had yet to be forthcoming.  He would also be writing to the relevant Minister setting out the Council’s ongoing concerns with the Inspectorate’s role within the Local Plan process.  Meanwhile, environmental resources in the District and in particular the Green Belt, would continue to be protected by the polices in current plans and the provisions of national planning guidance. Inappropriate development in the Green Belt would only take place where an applicant had demonstrated very special circumstances and in this regard, there was no open season in Sevenoaks.


Supplementary question: Cllr Purves


Councillor Purves requested an estimate of the length of time before the Council was likely to be able to submit a new Local Plan.


Response: Leader of the Council


The Leader referred to his earlier answer and advised that Officers were working on a plan of action and would be reporting to the next meeting of the Development & Conservation Advisory Committee.


Question 2:  Cllr Clayton


‘Given the Council’s ambitions to make progress on cycle routes, and given that it has become clear that asking Kent County Council (KCC) to read the 2011 Sevenoaks Cycle Strategy is not enough to gain their support for funding, what public consultation and technical work is the Council undertaking to build the case to attract external funding - from Government or KCC - to invest in Active Travel projects?’


Response: Leader of the Council


The Leader stated that this was a really exciting time for the Council with a lot of infrastructure projects going on, many lead by the Council, alongside the Council’s Net Zero ambitions.  So much so that this would now be pulled together by a specific team within Planning Policy to maximise the opportunities and potential. Discussions were ongoing with the Transport Innovations Team at Kent County Council, in order to understand what initiatives they had and their scale of ambition for the District. It also helped with understanding what funding was available and where the Council could assist in bringing each other’s projects forward. Both Sevenoaks and Kent knew that the 2011 Cycling Strategy was out of date and were looking at how to take cycling forward as part of a new wider transport strategy for the district. Although it would be wrong for him not to point out that many of the SDC actions within that Strategy had been carried out and continued to be. 


He reported that the Council was also launching a ‘Movement Strategy’, which looked at all modes of transport and how they could be made to work better together.  This in turn would enable the Council to seek further funding for projects that would support the evidence gathered for this work.


There were regular meetings with transport providers and colleagues at Local Authorities across West Kent to discuss issues and look at how everyone cold work together to secure more funding.  The Council was also in the process of looking again at the emerging Local Plan and all the transport requirements within it. There was also regular contact with  the Rail Projects Community Officer who had helped with partner working with organisations such as Darent Valley Rail Strategy, and aided consideration of improving access to stations which including cycling and seeking funding. 

Officers had also attended a number of seminars regarding Transport for the South East which had looked at all forms of transport, integration and priorities for the area.


He finally stated that without being too much of a tease, there wold be a number of exciting projects that being announced over the coming months.


Supplementary question: Cllr Clayton


Councillor Clayton welcomed what was said but stated that an essential first step under the government’s framework was to construct a walking and cycling infrastructure plan that was a pre-condition for external funding. He asked what progress had been being made on that and when the Leader expected it to be completed by.


Response: Leader of the Council


In his response the Leader referred back to his earlier reply and the launching of the ‘Movement Strategy’ which went further than a walking and cycling infrastructure plan, as it looked at all modes of transport and how they could be made to work better.

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