Pickles' abolition of housebuilding targets was unlawful

10 Nov 10
A move by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to scrap regional housebuilding targets has today been declared unlawful by a High Court judge

By David Williams

10 November 2010

A move by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to scrap regional housebuilding targets has today been declared unlawful by a High Court judge.

The ruling comes after construction company Cala Homes challenged Pickles’ decision in May to abolish regional spatial strategies, which imposed targets on councils for new housing.

Mr Justice Sales found in favour of the firm, which argued that Pickles acted beyond his powers and should have used primary legislation to bring about the changes.

Cala Homes had been stung in July when Winchester City Council blocked plans for 2,000 homes under the old RSS for the Southeast of England.

A spokeswoman for the company said the ruling would ‘restore clarity and confidence’ to the planning system until the new arrangements were in place.

Housing associations also welcomed the ruling. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents social landlords, said the High Court had backed their view that abolishing housing targets was ‘hasty and damaging’.

He said plans for around 182,000 homes had been dropped since Pickles’ May announcement, adding: ‘We hope the government will now put in place the necessary arrangements to ensure the homes this country desperately needs are delivered.’

However, local government minister Bob Neill argued that the ruling ‘changed very little’ as the Localism Bill, expected later this month, would ‘sweep away’ regional strategies.

‘Top-down targets don’t build homes,’ he said. ‘They’ve led to the lowest peacetime house-building rates since 1924.

‘We will work with local communities to build more homes – this was a commitment made in the coalition agreement and in the general election manifestos of both coalition parties. We intend to deliver on it.’

Simon Randall, consultant at housing law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said it was a ‘temporary reprieve’ for Cala but would still be a ‘huge embarrassment to the government.’

He also agreed that the ruling would change little in the long term.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said the ruling 'perhaps provides a narrow window of opportunity for some house builders to challenge local authority decisions to reject housing schemes, whilst highlighting the need for the government to work hand-in-hand with the property industry, who are actually broadly in support of their localism agenda'.

She went on: 'With government still insisting that their intention to remove regional strategies should continue to be taken into account by local authorities as a material consideration, few local authorities are likely to feel compelled to give the go-ahead to schemes that they do not want. The ruling is unlikely to end  the current confusion within local authorities.'

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