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Pickles prevails in judicial review of planning policy

16 February 2011

Developer Cala Homes has failed to overturn a planning statement sent by communities secretary Eric Pickles to local authorities, requiring them to take into account the government’s commitment to abolish the regional planning strategies.

The statement was sent out after the developer’s victory in a previous judicial review in November, where it successfully challenged Pickles’ attempt to scrap the strategies without primary legislation (see, 15 November 2010).

Following his defeat, Pickles told councils to have regard, as a “material consideration” under section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, to the government’s intention to abolish the strategies under clause 1 of the localism bill.

Cala argued that Pickles’ statement, and an accompanying letter from the government’s chief planner, was a “transparent attempt to thwart the application of the law as it stands” and to “subvert the policy and objects of the existing planning legislation”.

Delivering judgment in Cala Homes (South) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2011] EWHC 97 (Admin), Mr Justice Lindblom said Cala was seeking planning permission for a large residential development near Winchester.

Lindblom J said the “basic agenda” for a planning inquiry into Cala’s application to build 2,000 homes on the site was whether it was justified by the requirement for additional housing set out in the South East regional strategy.

He said he did not consider the statement by Pickles or the chief planner’s letter required councils or planning inspectors to “behave in any way inconsistently with the statutory and policy principles governing the operation of the plan-led system of development control”.

Lindblom J said Cala’s submissions were based on an incorrect understanding of what the secretary of state had done.

“The secretary of state has not enjoined local planning authorities to assume that regional strategies have already been revoked, or to ignore their provisions in so far as they bear on the particular decision in hand.

“What he has done is to advise authorities, when making decisions to which such regional policy is relevant, to take into account the fact that the government intends to promote, through legislation, a reform of the existing planning system in England, the effect of which would be to remove regional strategies as an element of the development plan.”

Lindblom J went on: “That regional strategies are at present central in the planning system does not render irrelevant and unlawful, for the purposes of a planning decision, the government’s intention to reform the system by removing them from it.”

He concluded that the secretary of state was entitled to advise authorities that the proposed revocation of the regional strategies was to be regarded as a ‘material consideration’ in their planning decisions.

The judicial review was allowed but the claim dismissed. David Heales, an associate at Macfarlanes, which represented Cala Homes, said his client was seeking permission to appeal.

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