Developer reignites 18-month battle with communities secretary over 2000-home development

Housebuilder Cala Homes is to legally challenge the decision by communities secretary Eric Pickles to turn down a planning appeal for its 2,000-home Barton Farm development near Winchester.

The move is a potential embarrassment for Pickles as it follows nearly 18 months of legal wrangling between the government and Cala after the government’s decision to prematurely scrap the regional spatial strategies that contain housing targets.

On Wednesday, the developer filed a statutory challenge under section 288 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, the equivalent of a judicial review for planning appeal decisions. Cala claims that Pickles’ refusal to grant planning permission for the scheme in September, against the advice of the planning inspector, incorrectly interpreted planning law on seven separate counts.

Pickles refused the application on the basis that Winchester council’s consultation on a new core strategy needed time to run its course.

As such Cala will argue that Pickles’ decision is an example of “prematurity” - giving too much weight to the proposed planning strategy at the expense of existing plans.

Barton Farm is contentious because it prompted Cala to launch a judicial review against Pickles’ July 2010 decision to effectively abolish regional spatial strategies.

In this case judges decided Pickles had acted unlawfully in seeking to abolish the strategies in advance of statutory regulation, and could only give “limited weight” to his intention to abolish them in appeal decisions. Cala’s current challenge will also argue that Pickles didn’t give enough weight to the existing regional plan, which calls for 612 homes a year in the borough.

Ian Ginbey, head of planning at Clyde & Co, acting for Cala, said: “Cala considers the secretary of state to have erred in refusing to grant planning permission against the recommendation of his appointed inspector, given his conclusions on policy and housing land supply.”

Pickles’ letter to Cala Homes in September rejecting its planning appeal said: “Government has made it clear that its intention is to return decision making powers in housing and planning to local authorities. In this particular case it is important to give Winchester the opportunity to complete its [core strategy] process.”