Communities secretary won’t fight claim he acted unlawfully in planning decision

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has admitted defeat in the government’s latest court spat with housebuilder Cala Homes, in a move which could have repercussions for planning decisions on a range of major schemes.

The government has this morning signed a “consent order” confirming it has dropped its defence of a judicial review brought by Cala over Pickles’ decision to turn down planning permission for the firm’s 2,000-home Barton Farm scheme near Winchester.

Pickles turned down the application in September on planning appeal on the basis that approving it would undermine the local council’s attempts to develop a new core strategy. This was despite the fact that the Planning Inspector had recommended the scheme be approved. Cala lodged its judicial review in early November.

The decision to throw in the towel, taken two days before the review was due to be heard on Wednesday, means the government is no longer contesting that Pickles’ decision was unlawful.

Sources said it could leave the government likely to lose a number of other appeals on broadly similar grounds – where developments have been turned down on the basis of interfering with emerging policy. Developers say these are examples of “prematurity” - where the government refuses to approve a decision because emerging planning policy may be affected by a development going ahead – which is not allowed under current planning guidance.

The move means Pickles will now have to consider Cala’s appeal all over again.

However, with Winchester Council now supporting the allocation of the site for housing, it is likely the development will get the go ahead.

Cala’s victory is its latest over the government in a series of cases taken by the housebuilder since Pickles decided to cast aside Regional Spatial Strategies in 2010. Pickles’ decision to scrap the strategies was also ruled unlawful, although the government pushed ahead with reforms.

Ian Ginbey of law firm Clyde & Co, which acts for Cala, said: “The Secretary of State has belatedly acknowledged that his decision to overrule his inspector was unlawful.  The claim challenged the Secretary of State’s finding that to grant consent for CALA’s scheme would be premature given the Government’s ‘localism’ agenda and, as such, its success could well have implications for the determination of a number of major housing schemes.”