High Court judge rules in favour of government’s planning reforms

Housebuilder Cala Homes is to appeal a High Court judgment this morning that councils can have regard to the government’s plans to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies in making planning decisions.

Justice Lindblom ruled today that Cala Homes claim for judicial review failed on all counts. Cala had launched the review to prevent the government from telling planning authorities to give material weight the impending abolition of regional strategies in their decisions.

The government announced its intention to abolish regional strategies, which contain housing targets for local councils, in May last year. In November Cala Homes overwhelmingly won its initial judicial review that the government’s abolition of them was unlawful without an Act of Parliament.

However, the government in response to this decision, which effectively reinstated the regional documents, claimed the ruling had little effect because the government intended to legislate for abolition in the near future.

Today’s decision essentially backs that view, making it much harder for housebuilders to try to use the window of time before the Localism Bill becomes law to squeeze through developments in the teeth of local opposition.

Cala Homes’ QC, Peter Village, had contended that the government’s standpoint was essentially unconstitutional as the regional strategies had been installed by act of parliament, and the government’s intention was unlawful and immaterial.

Justice Lindblom’s ruling said: “Mr Village’s submissions are based on an incorrect understanding of what the secretary of state has actually done. The secretary of state has not enjoined local planning authorities to assume that Regional Strategies have already been revoked.”

He added: “There is, in my judgment, no inconsistency between … the concept of Regional Strategies forming a central element of the statutory system, and … the concept that local planning authorities … may take into account the fact that the national administration has decided to go about abolishing Regional Strategies by means of an act of parliament.”

In a statement Cala Homes said confirmed it will appeal the decision. It said: “Cala Homes are [sic] disappointed that our application for Judicial Review was unsuccessful.  We will be seeking to appeal the decision and hope that it will be heard imminently.”

Planning Minister Bob Neill said:”This judgment makes it clear that planners can take into account the Government’s intention to do away with Regional Strategies. The Coalition Government made a firm pledge to sweep away these controversial strategies that have proved that top-down targets do not build homes. All they have produced is the lowest peacetime house building rates since 1924.”