Government says the intention to abolish regional plans should remain “material consideration” in planning decisions

The government will not appeal a High Court ruling today that the communities secretary Eric Pickles acted unlawfully in scrapping the regional plans which set housing targets across councils in England.

Ruling on a challenge to Pickles’ May 27 letter by housebuilder Cala Homes, Justice Scales said the government acted unlawfully in unilaterally revoking the system of Regional Strategies in England. 

A spokesperson for the government confirmed that the government will not appeal the decision, which appears to re-instate spatial strategies, at least until the enactment of the planned Local Government and Decentralisation Bill, which is due to be unveiled at the end of this month.

Cala Homes said the decision would restore “clarity and confidence to the planning system” while the government transfers to a new system. A spokesperson said: “CALA Homes fully endorses the Government’s desire to have greater local community involvement in planning but believes that the new approach will take some time to evolve into a successful process and transitional arrangements are essential to avoid a policy vacuum. With regional strategies remaining in place we have a clear legal framework to operate within to ensure that much needed housing delivery is maintained until the new arrangements have had time to settle down and become effective.”

However, the government disputed this interpretation, with a spokesperson saying that the intention to revoke the regional plans would remain “a material consideration” in planning decisions.

Communities minister Bob Neill said: “This judgement changes very little. Later this month we will be introducing the Localism Bill to Parliament, which will sweep away the controversial regional strategies. The Government remains firmly resolved to scrap this layer of confusing red tape. Instead, we will work with local communities to build more homes. This was a commitment made in the Coalition Agreement and in the general election manifestoes of both coalition parties. We intend to deliver on it.”

Pickles’s decision has lead to hundreds of councils dropping plans for hundreds of thousands of homes, and is fundamental to the government’s localist approach to reforming the planning system. Today’s judgment says Pickles acted outside his statutory powers in circumventing the need for Parliamentary scrutiny of such a fundamental change to the planning regime, and that under European law the environmental effects of removing the strategies have to be considered.

Ian Ginbey, head of planning at law firm Macfarlanes, acting for CALA Homes, said welcomed the government decision not to appeal the ruling. He said: “We think this immediately re-instates the regional strategies. It brings them back in play and makes them a key material consideration in planning appeals, one that trumps the government’s stated intention to abolish. We’re very pleased with the ruling and the decision not to appeal.”

The government will now have to pay Cala Homes costs for the case, with the exact amount to be determined at a later date.