Wealden Council’s Local Plan appears to have hit problems even before its public examination by a planning inspector begins next week.
The planning inspector appointed to examine the plan, Louise Nurser, has written to the council saying she has identified significant issues in relation to the “duty to cooperate”.
This requires the council to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis with other local authorities and prescribed bodies in the preparation of the Local Plan.
The inspector says: “I have identified significant issues in relation to the duty to cooperate, particularly in terms of environmental considerations and housing.”
Linked to this, she said, the Habitats Regulations Assessment appeared to have given rise to a number of potentially important matters including a divergency between the council’s stance, and that of Natural England, on matters of air quality.
The inspector says: “In addition, to matters of legal compliance, there are other substantive matters of soundness, such as the council’s approach to development within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which I need to consider prior to moving onto Stage 2 of the hearing.
“I should stress that, whilst I have identified significant matters which require consideration, I have not come to any conclusions.
“Nonetheless, my findings in respect of these initial matters could have very serious implications for the examination. In particular I would be unable to rectify noncompliance with the duty to cooperate.”
The inspector says that following the initial hearing sessions, which begin next week, she will consider whether it is appropriate to continue with the examination, and if so, in what form.
She said that if she concludes the duty has not been complied with she will advise the council to withdraw the Local Plan, given that the only alternative would be for her to produce a report recommending non-adoption.
If she concludes the duty to cooperate has been met it may be possible to proceed to additional hearing sessions dealing with other issues of soundness.
She adds: “Alternatively, it may be that a suspension of the examination is required to enable further work to be undertaken/competed to address issues of soundness.
“If this were to be the case, I would work with the council to consider its options moving forward.”