Judicial review to look into government’s attempt to stop councils setting stricter rules for housing than national standards

The High Court has allowed a legal challenge to Michael Gove’s policy of limiting councils from setting higher energy efficiency standards for new housing than national benchmarks.

In a ministerial statement published last December, the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said that local plans should not go beyond minimum energy efficiency standards for new buildings.

The policy aims to simplify the planning process for housebuilders by preventing the proliferation of varying local standards, which the department said adds to development costs and undermines economies of scale.

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Michael Gove said last year’s policy would simplify the planning process. But it has now been successfully challenged by a campaign group

But the move has been criticised by net zero campaigners who say it blocks efforts to tackle the climate emergency and will result in homes which will have to be retrofitted at a later date to comply with tougher standards coming into force in 2025.

The judicial review has been bought by campaign group Rights Community Action and is being supported by the Good Law Project, a non-profit founded by activist Jo Maugham.

The two groups are arguing that DLUHC’s statement is unlawful because it contradicts objectives in the Climate Change Act 2008 and could breach the Environment Act 2021, which requires policy to be assessed for its environmental impacts.

Rights Community Action chief executive Naomi Luhde-Thompson said: “This is a policy disaster. We know that councils in England want to plan for warm homes that are affordable to heat, but their plans are being crushed by Michael Gove. It’s homeowners of new properties who will pay the price again and again for this huge mistake.

“Laws to protect the environment and to guard against exactly this sort of ministerial folly need to come into their own and force a change in the Government’s approach so that councils can plan for zero carbon places.”

Maugham added: “It is hard to believe, but it is true, that homes are being built today, perfectly lawfully, that are so poorly insulated that they will later need to be fitted with extra insulation. This will be costly, wasteful and an enormous headache for homeowners.

“Worse still - Michael Gove has adopted a ministerial statement which has the effect of discouraging the building of homes to a sustainable standard. This will be beneficial in the short term for the huge housebuilders and developers that fund the Conservative Party - and terrible for everyone else. We think it’s time to say ‘enough’.”

The legal challenge comes after a group of more than 50 councils, businesses and charities wrote to Gove in February to warn that the ministerial statement threatened work to improve the energy efficiency of homes.

The letter, co-ordinated by the Town and Country Planning Association, described the measures as “unnecessarily draconian” and could have a severe impact councils which had invested sums to develop local standards.

The High Court has said that the hearing must take place “on the earliest available date after 20 May”.