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Court decides Eric Pickles acted 'unlawfully' on housing targets

Richard Moss | 13:23 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Eric Pickles

Ready for action - but Eric Pickles has fallen foul of the High Court.

No-one could accuse Eric Pickles of inaction in his six months as Communities and Local Government Secretary.

He's been on a single-minded mission to tear down red tape and banish bureaucracy.

Regional development agencies are going, quangos are being dismantled.

But one of his early decisions has now been overturned.

Back in July, Mr Pickles scrapped Regional Spatial Strategies with immediate effect.

These are the planning blueprints drawn up by the now banished regional assemblies.

They covered everything from where wind farms should go, to where the best place was for new factories.

But their most controversial aspect were their housing targets, which decided how many homes would be built in which communities over the next decade.

Secretary of State Pickles called it Soviet-style planning, and said Stalinist top-down regional targets must go in favour of more local decision-making.

But the High Court has now decided that his decision to scrap the strategies and their targets was unlawful.

They were responding to an application by housing developer Cala Homes which was effectively representing much of the housebuilding industry.

The company argued he had no right to scrap them, and the court agreed.

Housebuilders didn't necessarily want to keep the plans in place forever.

But they were concerned that the decision left a vacuum, with many plans for new homes scrapped or in limbo.

They say the judgement will allow for a more orderly change of policy.


The Government says housing targets are not the best way of ensuring new homes are built.

So those Regional Spatial Strategies come back into play, but not for long.

The Government has decided not to appeal against the judgement, but will be bringing forward legislation to scrap the strategies.

The new Localism Bill will get rid of them within two years if it passes through parliament.

Should we care about all this?

Labour says yes, because they believe the scrapping of the strategies is preventing the building of thousands of new homes.

They argue that the targets are essential to ensure housebuilders gain the planning permissions they need.

The Government says Labour's housebuilding record was lamentable though, and that there are better ways of ensuring new houses are built.

But in the long term it still remains unclear how the Government will meet its own ambitious target of building 130,000 new affordable homes at a time when housing subsidies have been cut.

It says it will pay councils money for every new house built, but in addition it's planning to allow communities to hold referendums on housing schemes.

Some fear that will lead to paralysis in many areas as existing residents block plans for any new homes.

But councils might have to deal with a glut of planning applications in the next few months though as housebuilders look to move quickly before the housing targets are scrapped again.


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