On the 11th March 2021 the Council wrote back to the Inspectors in respect of the examination of the TMBC Local Plan, defending their position regarding the Duty to Cooperate and advising that they ‘have no alternative other than to challenge your final decision’.
The Inspectors report of June 2021 has been published and details that given their conclusion relating to the Duty to Cooperate, the Inspectors will not go onto consider the reliability of the Plan and whether it is compliant with other legal requirements. However, the Inspector has given consideration that Sevenoaks District Council is a neighbouring authority and is currently unable to meet its housing needs. West Kent Housing Market Area (HMA) covers Sevenoaks District Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, as a result of this the Inspectors report focuses on engagement between authorities within the HMA.
Sevenoaks Regulation 18 Plan when consulted on, acknowledged a need for 13,960 dwellings and identified sites to meet between 6,582 and 13,382 dwellings. Overall, meaning either a minimum of 600 dwellings or worst case a 7,000-dwelling shortfall.
Tonbridge & Malling’s evidence for their Local Plan, the Inspectors state that TMBC knew Sevenoaks DC would have a shortfall in housing in September 2017 as detailed in the Housing Delivery Strategy. It shows that instead of cooperating and moving forward with Sevenoaks DC, TMBC merely wrote to Sevenoaks in October 2017, when Sevenoaks were at their ‘issues and options’ stage of their plan preparation.
At paragraph 20, the Inspector summarises that evidence shows TMBC knew for a number of years that Sevenoaks DC could not meet its full housing need therefore the Duty to Cooperate should have been obvious.
Concluding, Tonbridge & Malling have determined that they could potentially seek to deal with some of Sevenoaks District Council unmet need through a plan review, but this is not considered by the Inspectors to be ‘in spirit of the Act or of national policy.’ Failure in the Duty to Cooperate cannot be resolved at this stage and their recommendation stands that their plan is not adopted.
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