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Pickles’ defeat leaves sector in limbo

The High Court verdict that communities secretary Eric Pickles unlawfully scrapped regional housing targets will create more uncertainty but few additional homes, housing experts have said.

Mr Justice Sales last week found in favour of Edinburgh housebuilder Cala Homes that removing regional spatial strategies required primary legislation and was thus beyond Mr Pickles’ powers.

Plans for more than 180,000 homes were scrapped after a letter sent by Mr Pickles to councils on 27 May advised them of his decision to abolish the targets.

The targets will now be restored but only until the Localism Bill is passed into law, expected to be next year. Experts have warned that the impact could be minimal.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said: “In the long term, this ruling will change little. It perhaps provides a narrow window of opportunity for some housebuilders to challenge local authority decisions to reject housing schemes.

“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.”

Consultancy Tetlow King Planning said there were at least 5,630 homes across seven developments that had been rejected citing Mr Pickles’ letter.

Cala Homes’ plans for 2,000 homes at Barton Farm near Winchester were turned down by the local council in July. The company also submitted a 300-dwelling development in the Cotswolds.

Lord Derby’s 1,200-home application in Newmarket, a 280-home scheme in Emsworth, a 350-home Newbridge Construction plan near Tewkesbury and two Cornish developments totalling 1,500 homes were the others highlighted.

It is not yet clear which, if any, of these will win permission based on Cala’s victory, but the Cornish developments, in Bude and Truro, face further High Court battles with Mr Pickles.

Cala’s Winchester appeal is due to be heard in February.

Macfarlanes head of planning Ian Ginbey, who represented Cala, said: “There were a number of housing proposals rejected on the basis that the revocation was lawful. These will need to be revisited.

“In addition, there will be a number of projects brought forward prior to the passage of any primary legislation, which can now have regard to housing ­targets.”

Stuart Andrews, head of planning at law firm Eversheds, said a date had not been set for Catesby Property Group’s High Court challenge over the 450-home scheme in Bude. But he said that with the RSS back in place, the “numbers support the development”.

A Home Builders Federation spokesman said it was impossible to predict precisely how many schemes would benefit from the ruling but it “could be thousands”.

Richard Guyatt, planning specialist at law firm Bond Pearce, said the ruling simply served to “muddy the water” of planning policy.

“It all means more uncertainty, confusion and delay in the planning system. This is exactly what was predicted and exactly what the development industry and key stakeholders do not want or need,” he added.

Figures released last month showed the number of new homes that became available in England fell to a record low during the past year.

The housing supply increased by just 128,680 properties during 2009/10 - the lowest annual level since records began at the start of the decade, and 23 per cent down on the previous year, according to the Communities and Local Government Department.

The number of new homes available fell in all regions of England, with the North-west ­experiencing the biggest drop at 38 per cent, followed by the South-east at 32 per cent.

Chris Cobbold, head of the residential practice at global real estate services firm DTZ, said the Cala victory presented opportunities for housebuilders.

“There is now a window of opportunity for developers to make the case for their schemes within the framework provided by the RSS.

“While the RSS will be abolished in due course, the Localism Bill that will do this may take well over a year to pass into law.”


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