Regional strategies - the next round
February 8th, 2011 by Louise Humphreys
The latest round in the regional spatial strategies dispute was resolved (for the time being!) yesterday. By way of a quick summary, in November last year Cala Homes successfully challenged the decision by Eric Pickles to revoke regional spatial strategies (RSS) with immediate effect. Following that decision, the Secretary of State immediately re-iterated the intention to revoke RSS via the Localism Bill and stated that this intention should be treated as a material consideration in the meantime. Cala Homes then sought to challenge that response.
The primary question for the Court was whether the Government's declared intention was capable of being a material consideration for the purposes of a planning decision given that the intention or policy subverted or undermined the policy and objects of existing legislation. A copy of the Court's judgment can be viewed here.
Mr Justice Lindblom saw no distinction between why if changes to the matrix of national policy, as might emerge in draft circulars or draft Planning Policy Statements, and changes to local policy, as they come forward in draft development plan documents, can be material considerations (subject to their weight being contingent on the stage they have reached) this should not apply to changes to the composition of the development plan promised by legislative proposals. He was therefore unable to accept that material planning considerations do not, and as a matter of law must not, embrace a government's intention to reform the composition of the development plan itself.
Whether in any particular case this factor is material to the decision being made and, if it is, the weight to be given to it will always be a matter for the decision-maker and the Judge noted that the Secretary of State had not sought to specify how much weight should be accorded to relevant provisions of the RSS pending their abolition.
Cala's additional claims based on irrationality and failure to produce a Strategic Environmental Statement were also dismissed. A counter-argument on behalf of the Secretary of State that Cala Homes were guilty of an abuse of process and delay was also ruled out.
Yesterday's decision, pending any further appeal of course, has led to questions as to whether Cala Homes' earlier victory in quashing the immediate revocation of RSS was only a pyrrhic one. However, there is a distinction between there being no RSS as part of the development plan and there being an intention to revoke which means that decision-makers to have to consider the policies of the RSS and then determine the weight to be accorded to them in light of all the circumstances.