Cala Homes has lost its legal challenge to overturn the Government’s position that the forthcoming withdrawal of Regional Strategies should be a ‘material consideration’ in the development of planning policy.
Cala Homes won a ruling in the High Court on 10 November that the coalition government’s decision to scrap the Labour’s Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) planning system was illegal gave hope to developers. Click for swindonlink’s coverage. Particular to Swindon, huge swathes of land on Swindon’s borders were under threat from speculative plans submitted to both Swindon Council at Hook Street and to Wiltshire Council at Ridgeway Farm.
As reported by independent planning consultants AlliancePlanning on 7 February, Mr Justice Lindblom in his ruling makes reference to Section 38(6) of the 2004 Act, which provides:
“If regard is to be had to the development plan for the purpose of any determination to be made under the planning Acts the determination must be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”
Reference is made to other case law where the power and judgement of the decision-maker is emphasised: It is for the decision-maker to weight up what is a material consideration.
Mr Justice Lindblom said: “Whenever a government embarks on wide-ranging reform of the planning system some inconsistency in day to day decision-making is liable to arise and to persist until the reform is enacted as law. This perhaps is inevitable. Even when the scope of the changes is clear, and a timescale for their being enacted is set, the uncertainty will not be entirely dispelled. Ministers and those who advise them will be aware of this. The Secretary of State will be conscious of the need to ensure, so far as he reasonably can, consistency and predictability in decision-making. From time to time he will publish guidance designed to promote this objective. The Current PPS1 (“Delivering Sustainable Development”) is an example. The Secretary of State’s role in all this is, essentially, political and proactive. It goes beyond his statutory powers to call in applications, to recover appeals and to make directions under the General Development Procedure Order. Writing to local planning authorities to guide them in the handling of proposals submitted to them is another step he can quite properly take. This may be seen as one facet of the general supervision of the planning system exercised by the Secretary of State."
Pictured top, Redhouse in North Swindon. Bottom, MPs James Grey from North Wilts and Robert Buckland, representing Swindon South, with Wiltshire councillor Mollie Groom next to the Hook South development opposite Lydiard Park proposed by Primegate Properties
AlliancePlanning comments: Not that we know whether Mr Pickles ever lost much sleep about the CALA challenge, but no doubt he will feel roundly vindicated by the judgment. At a wider level, planning by Ministerial diktat (which at one level at least, now appears to be endorsed as just a fine and proper thing to do), does seem to fly in the face of a ‘localism’ agenda – but perhaps that’s just being picky. Mr Pickles would no doubt argue that he has given local communities the right to choose if they accept Regional Spatial Strategies. However it would appear that one outcome of this, is that we have simply replaced one level of ‘imposed planning’ with another.
Whilst we still have Regional Strategies for now, if a planning authority or Inspector feels it appropriate to add weight to the fact that Regional Strategies are to be abolished he can do so as it is a material consideration. So do we have Regional Strategies at all?
Richard Pagett of environmental group Purton Ps & Qs near Swindon said, "At last, there is some commonsense coming out. Developers must start to realise that they must plan with communities; this will mean smaller developments and more appropriate developments, and in some locations it will mean no development at all.
Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, commented: "I warmly welcome this judgement, which confirms my view that the Government’s early and clear indication that the discredited Regional Spatial Strategies were to go was the right thing to do. This decision has now been firmly backed up by the Localism Bill, which is currently before Parliament.
Mollie Groom, Wiltshire Council member, said: "The recent statement raises the subject of the 3,000 houses to the West of Swindn which was in the draft RSS for the south west so this latest judgement could have an effect on the proposal.
"All those responsible for making planning decisions that will affect our lives should be taking the new policies firmly into account."