The government has secretly ordered planning inspectors to consider its proposed abolition of the country house clause when they rule on PPG 7 applications, the AJ has learned.
The deputy chief planning inspector issued a confidential planning note - PINS 789 - to his staff in May 2001, ordering them to take into account New Labour's intention to abolish the clause. In the three years since, up to 13 PPG 7 applications have been refused while not a single one has been approved. In the two years before the advice was issued, 22 per cent were successful.
The policy flies in the face of recent ODPM statements, which have sought to reassure applicants that inspectors would ignore the impending reforms until they are formally adopted (AJ 29.5.03).
But the PINS note specifically orders inspectors to take the new proposals into account, first mooted by then-planning minister Beverley Hughes in 2001. 'The minister's announcement indicates the government's aim to tighten controls over large dwellings in the countryside, ' it reads.
'For the present, any decision to permit a dwelling exceptionally in the countryside, under the provision of the extant policy, will need very cogent argument, with express reasons for preferring the extant policy in that particular case.
'Until the policy position is formally updated, any decision or recommendation to allow a dwelling relying on the provisions of the PPG 7 paragraph should be referred to your group manager prior to dispatch, ' it adds.
Robert Adam - whose practice has a steady stream of PPG 7 houses - said clients would be 'horrified to hear of the secret note'.
'Effectively there has been a secret pact in the last three years to contravene policy, ' he said.
'Clients have been misled into spending up to £100,000 on inquiries they were never going to win. This is nasty and underhand. The government seems to have a secret agenda, ' he added.
But a Planning Inspectorate spokesman insisted that PINS 789 does not represent anything underhand. 'The inspectorate has a published objective to ensure that policy is applied consistently, ' he said.
'In this case it has updated planning inspectors on a ministerial announcement which is in the public domain. 'Inspectors are expressly reminded that paragraph 3.21 of PPG 7 remains extant unless or until it is removed, but that thge ministerial statement should also be taken into consideration.'