Secretary of state’s decision follows Cala judicial review and is against advice of inspector

Secretary of State Eric Pickles has refused to grant a 2,000 home planning application in Winchester for Cala Homes despite the inspector finding in favour of the scheme.

Pickles said that granting the application would “undermine the process” of formulating the council’s embryonic local plan, and turned it down, despite the fact he admitted it was in accordance with recent government planning policy and that Winchester does not have an identifiable five year supply of land.

Winchester’s new plan is currently being formulated by the council under a process called Blueprint, following last year’s abolition of regional spatial strategies, which had previously set housing targets.

Pickles’ decision letter says: “The secretary of state agrees with [the inspector] that the emerging  [core strategy] carries very little weight. However, government has made it clear that its intention is to return decision making powers in housing and planning to local authorities. This is a key planning priority for the government and the secretary of state considers that in this particular case it is important to give Winchester the opportunity to complete its blueprint process.”

The decision is important because housebuilder Cala’s application for the contentious Winchester scheme was the reason that it launched a separate judicial review against Pickles’ decision last year to effectively abolish regional spatial strategies.

This judicial review caused embarrassment for Pickles last autumn, when a judge decided he had acted unlawfully in seeking to abolish the plans in advance of statutory regulation. This decision comes in spite of the publication of the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which says councils should adopt a presumption in favour of development, and the government’s “planning for growth” consultation.

It also comes on the back of recent decisions by Pickles where he has approved applications in the teeth of an inspector’s recommendation to refuse, citing the lack of a five year land supply.

Cala Homes could not be reached for comment, but is understood to be considering its options, which include launching a section 288 challenge to the decision, which is the planning application equivalent of a judicial review.