Communities secretary’s defeat in court spat with Cala Homes leaves other major planning decisions in doubt

A series of major planning decisions made by communities secretary Eric Pickles could be open to question after the government was forced to concede defeat in its latest court spat with housebuilder Cala Homes.

The government this week signed a “consent order”, confirming it had 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.

At least two other judicial reviews of major planning applications are currently to be decided over related issues, including a 1,300-home Wainhomes scheme in St Austell, Cornwall, and a 280-home scheme by Fox Strategic Land and Property in Sandbach, Cheshire.

Pickles turned down Cala’s planning appeal for the scheme in September on the basis that 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 development be approved.

Pickles’ decision to now throw in the towel, taken two days before the review was due to be heard on Wednesday, means the government is no longer contesting the fact that his decision was unlawful. Pickles will now have to consider Cala’s appeal again.

Developers claim that the rejection of the schemes in Winchester, St Austell and Sandbach are examples of “prematurity” - where the government refuses to approve
a development because emerging planning policy may be affected by it going ahead. This is not allowed under current planning guidance.

Mike Gallimore, planning partner at Hogan Lovells, said: “This could certainly be taken as an indication the government has made a reassessment of the robustness of refusals made on the basis of prematurity.”

A government spokesperson said: “Rather than spending public money on ongoing legal challenges, this planning appeal will simply be returned to the department for decision and will be decided in the light of all relevant information.”

A decision is due on the Sandbach scheme over the next two weeks.