Every Local Plan submitted by a Local Planning Authority (LPA) is reviewed by one, or two, Government appointed Planning Inspectors (PINs). The review takes place in two stages:
Looks at whether or not the Plan, as submitted by TWBC, is “LEGALLY COMPLIANT”, which takes into account:
- Their Duty to Co-operate (DtC) with Neighbouring Councils and other bodies like Kent County Council (KCC), Southern Water etc
- A strategic view of the Sustainability Appraisal of the proposed developments.
- Have they taken into account the Habitat Regulations Assessment?
- Have they fulfilled their duties in regard to Public Consultation and the Impact of Climate Change?
Both Sevenoaks (SDC) and Tonbridge & Malling (TMBC) Councils had their Local Plans assessed as not being Legally Compliant as they had not fulfilled their DtC with their neighbouring Councils, and thereby, not able to proceed to Stage 2. It was our hope that the same would happen with TWBC’s Plan after the Stage 1 Hearing Days on 1st and 2nd March.
Save Capel’s Legal Team, and other petitioners against the Plan, raised doubts and concerns on a number of issues focused on the perceived failure of TWBC to fulfil their Duty to Co-operate, specifically:
- The absence of an updated Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) from KCC Highways given the significant infrastructure requirements of the Plan. A “holding” SOCG, “to be updated” was submitted as part of the Plan in November 2021.
- “Serious Concerns” raised by TMBC; these focus mainly on the required infrastructure associated with the proposed development at Tudeley Village.
- Non-publication of minutes of critical meetings held by TWBC with the Strategic Sites Working Group (SSWG) formed of other key stakeholders, a forum which TWBC fundamentally relied on to demonstrate its Duty to Co-operate.
- Evidence of particularly poor communication with Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) regarding housing needs.
In spite of numerous deficiencies, the Inspector allowed TWBC to provide more evidence, over three weeks, before coming back to a further Hearing Day on 29th March. TWBC managed to “magic-up” the SSWG missing minutes several days before the extra day’s hearing. The bigger issue was that suddenly on the morning of 29th March, we walked into the Council Chamber to be given a hard copy of an “updated” SOCG between KCC Highways and TWBC! The earlier one, submitted five whole months earlier on 1st November 2021, was very different to this one.
After a very frustrating day the Inspector concluded that the examination could progress to Stage 2. Importantly, the Inspector has not clarified that all aspects of legal compliance have been met – regardless of what TWBC are publicly stating – but he could have stopped the examination if DtC had not been met (as with TMBC’s examination).
This is a longer process which looks at strategic policies and individual sites in the Local Plan and whether TWBC have followed all their stated policies in relation to them. The largest sites of course are Tudeley Village, East Capel, and Paddock Wood.
The Stage 2 hearings were originally scheduled for 24th March to 27th May, but due to the protracted Stage 1 process, and possibly the current purdah that is now in operation until after the Local Council elections on 5th May, the Inspector has just released the outline timetable for Stage 2 which begins on 25th May and is scheduled to run through to 19th July. We will know whether or not the Inspector has found the Plan to be “SOUND” in his report that follows.
Inspector’s Schedule for Stage 2
Here is the Revised Schedule for Stage 2 as defined by the Inspector and published on 12th April. The sessions highlighted in green have taken place. The sessions highlighted in yellow are the most important ones for Save Capel, the majority of which members of our Legal Team and consultants are being scheduled to attend.