Chief planner admits effect of Cala ruling is to reverse scrapping of regional plans

The government’s chief planner has written to all local authorities officially accepting that regional strategies have now been effectively re-instated in the planning system following yesterday’s high court ruling over a challenge by housebuilder Cala Homes.

Steve Quartermain, chief planner at the communities department said in a letter posted yesterday, that “the effect of this decision is to re-establish Regional Strategies as part of the development plan.”

However, he added that the government still intended to abolish regional plans, and that this intention should be a “material consideration” in planning decisions.

Justice Scales ruled yesterday that communities secretary Eric Pickles acted unlawfully by scrapping regional spatial strategies, which contain housing targets, in July. Since his decision, councils across England have scrapped plans for 160,000 homes.

Quartermain’s letter included a draft clause proposed in the forthcoming localism bill which will revoke the regional plans. It also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to introduce a New Homes Bonus to incentivise councils to build more houses. Planning minister Bob Neill said yesterday that the ruling “changed little”, while housebuilders and planning consultants said it could lead to a raft of appeals and opportunistic planning applications.

The letter comes as former housing minister Nick Raynsford hit out at the government over the ruling, and said the decision exposed the “complete shambles” of government planning policy. He said: “This is a disgrace, and the government’s response shows contempt for the court decision equal only to the contempt already shown to the housebuilding and construction industry.”

Raynsford called for a parliamentary debate on the ruling, and said that the ministers responsible should be “called to account.”

Labour shadow communities secretary, Caroline Flint MP, said the ruling raised embarrassing questions about the way Eric Pickles ripped up plans for desperately needed new homes. She said: “The government’s decision to scrap regional housing targets, without thinking of the impact, has led local authorities to ditch plans for 160 000 new homes - 1,300 every single day. It has also undermined the construction industry by creating confusion and uncertainty.”