Decision means councils may simply stall on housing cuts until Localism Bill becomes law

Experts have predicted a deepening paralysis in the planning system after an appeal court ruling this week that leaves councils unable to take into account proposed changes to the system when drawing up development plans.

The news follows an unsuccessful High Court appeal by Cala Homes against the government’s plans to scrap regional spatial strategies (RSS). The government’s plan has resulted in councils scrapping at least 220,000 homes since the coalition took office.

Despite rejecting the appeal, the three judges found that councils should only take account of the proposed scrapping of the regional plans, which contain housing targets, when making planning decisions “in extreme circumstances”. They also said councils should have no regard to the proposals when drawing up new development documents.

Ian Tant, partner at planning consultancy Barton Willmore, said the ruling would not, however, result in councils reinstating scrapped housing plans, but instead they would simply put plans to cut housing numbers on ice until the Localism Bill becomes law. Tant said: “This will create a hiatus in authorities that want to lower their housing numbers.

“It means they can’t rely on the RSS abolition at public inquiry, but the practical implication is they’ll just wait to push the changes through until the Localism Bill becomes law.”

Tant said the ruling would be particularly damaging in former new towns such as Stevenage and Milton Keynes, which were relying on large urban extensions outside their districts to deliver needed new homes. According to Tetlow King Planning, plans for 220,000 homes have been dropped by councils following the government’s announcement that it will abolish RSSs.

Cala’s appeal was over how much weight councils have to give to the government’s intention to scrap regional strategies in planning decisions. Cala lost because the judges found it was not possible to say the intention to revoke regional plans should never be a material consideration.