The government has announced it will press ahead with the abolition of regional spatial strategies despite a high court defeat over the contentious issue
Earlier today (10 November) Justice Sales today found in favour of Edinburgh house builder Cala Homes after the group contended that Eric Pickles’ (pictured) decision to scrap regional spatial strategies was unlawful because it needed primary legislation.
Within moments of the ruling the government issued a statement confirming it would press ahead with the abolition set out in its localism bill.
Bob Neil, communities and local government minister, said: ‘This judgement changes very little. Later this month we will be introducing the Localism Bill to Parliament, which will sweep away the controversial regional strategies. Top-down targets don’t build homes – they’ve led to the lowest peacetime house-building rates since 1924.
‘The Government remains firmly resolved to scrap this layer of confusing red tape. Instead, we will work with local communities to build more homes. This was a commitment made in the Coalition Agreement and in the general election manifestoes of both coalition parties. We intend to deliver on it.’
Cala Homes’ plans for 2,000 homes at Barton Farm, near Winchester were turned down by the local council in July.
It is thought Justice Sales’ ruling could open the way for further actions, with housebuilders Colonnade Land and Catesby Group already challenging the government’s decision.
Peter Stewart, of Peter Stewart Consultancy, said: ‘The Government has criticised regional strategies as being “undemocratic” – this ruling is a welcome reminder that this country operates under the rule of law and that if the planning system is to be reformed, then this should be after democratic debate in parliament, rather than by diktat.’
Justin Gaze, partner at Knight FrankResidential Development, said: ‘Today’s ruling illustrates once again the dislocation between the Government’s new housing policy and the housebuilders who will have to deliver housing into whatever strategy is eventually agreed.
‘The Government has indicated that it will continue to pursue its localism agenda which the industry largely believes is fundementally flawed.
He added: ‘The effect of planning strategies on the UK economy, of which construction is a major and a seemingly-resilient part, could be enormous. There are already huge pressures on land, and the increasing regulation on building sustainability with the resultant increase in build cost, and much reduced grant funding from the HCA for affordable housing, threaten to combine with the predicted fall in house prices and the proposed FCA recommended restrictions on mortgage availability to squeeze the housing industry in Britain at both ends.’
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: ‘In the long-term this ruling will change little. It perhaps provides a narrow window of opportunity for some house builders to challenge local authority decisions to reject housing schemes, whilst highlighting the need for the government to work hand-in-hand with the property industry, who are actually broadly in support of their localism agenda.
‘With government still insisting that their intention to remove Regional Strategies should continue to be taken into account by local authorities as a material consideration, few local authorities are likely to feel compelled to give the go-ahead to schemes that they do not want. The ruling is unlikely to end the current confusion within local authorities.’
Cala begins new legal challenge
The lawyers behind Cala Homes’ successful legal challenge to the revocation of regional strategies have launched new proceedings after the government insisted that the ruling changes little.
Cala Homes took the fight to the High Court after communities secretary Eric Pickles said RS would be scrapped as part of the new ‘Big Society’ initiative.
Justice Sales ruled in favour of Cala Homes, saying primary legislation should have been introduced before any such move.
On taking office in May, communities secretary Eric Pickles wrote to local authorities to announce his intention to rapidly abolish RSs and instructing them to start devising their own housing targets.
Despite last week’s judgment, department for communities and local government chief planner Steve Quartermain wrote to councils and the Planning Inspectorate insisting that they have to regard this material consideration in any decisions.
The government also confirmed that RS abolition will feature in the decentralisation and localism bill.
But now Cala’s legal advisers Macfarlanes is challenging Quartermain’s letter.
‘Cala successfully sought judicial review of the secretary of state’s unlawful revocation of regional strategies to restore clarity to the planning system,’ said head of planning Ian Ginbey.
‘Regrettably, the government’s response is that it changes little and that regard should still be had to its intention to abolish regional strategies. This has again given rise to confusion and we are seeking a court declaration that its intention to revoke RSs is not a material consideration.’